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Master of Divinity, Episcopal Divinity School, 2003 

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the 

Requirements for the degree of 




© Copyright by 



Approved by 


Fredrica Harris Thompsett, M.A., Ph.D. 

Mary Wolfe Professor Emerita of Historical Theology 

President of the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church 


L/i^ — I t^s 

Edward W. Rodman, D.H.L., D.D. 
Professor of Pastoral Theology and Urban Ministry 



Charles A.W3 

MDiv. Student 
Episcopal Divinity School 

To my parents, Dr. Oliver and Dorothy Coleman, for their love and wise guidance. 

To My Trailblazers: 

Christine Coleman 

Betty Johnson 

LeClair Knox 

Eunice Lowery 

Jessie Stewart 

My loving husband Jamie. 



It is with sincere thanks that I acknowledge the extremely helpful and patient 
persons who have been my companions on this journey. They are my loving parents Dr. 
and Mrs. Oliver Coleman, for their prayers and support. I would like to gratefully 
acknowledge Rev. Robert G. Windsor who has served as my ally, my mentor and my 
friend. Finally, I would like to sincerely thank my advisor, Dr. Fredrica Harris 
Thompsett and my reader Canon Edward Rodman, who not only read and critiqued my 
thesis, but shared such wonderful stories along the way. Lastly my husband, Jamie for 
his love and patience. 

Table of Contents 


Page 1 

Chapter 1 


Page 1 1 

The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray 

The Rev. Mary Adebonojo 

The Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris 

The Rev. Dr. Sandra (Sandye) Wilson 

The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris 

The Rev. Cn. Nan Arlington Peete 

Chapter 2 


Page 51 

The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows 

The Rev. Monique Ellson 

The Rev. Cheryl Parris 

The Rev. Mpho Tutu 

The Rev. Paula Clark Green 

Chapter 3 

Threads: A Conclusion in Progress 

Page 76 


Questions and Group Work 
Interview Questions 

Page 89 
Page 95 
Page 99 



"Episcopal Female Clergy Leaders of African Heritage, Trailblazers and 
Colleagues" is a two part work focused on two groups of women and their stories, 
spiritual formation, ministry and struggles. The first part consists of interviews with five 
of the first eleven African American women ordained as priests in the Episcopal Church. 
The second section looks at the ministry of some of my colleagues, whose paths I have 
crossed during our ministry, who have or are working in all or predominately white 
parishes. I have placed an asterisk by the names of women whom I have interviewed. 

First Eleven African- American Women Ordained in the Episcopal Church 

The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, January 1977 (Deceased) 

The Rev. Mary Adebonojo, April 1980* 

The Rt. Rev, Dr. Barbara C. Harris, October 1982* 

The Rev. Michele Thornton, December 1981. 

The Rev. Dr. Sandra (Sandye) A. Wilson, January 1982* 

The Rt. Rev. Gayle E. Harris, February 1982* 

The Rev. Norma Blackwell, January 1983 

The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown-Douglas, September 1983 

Dr. Ann Holmes Redding, March 1984 

The Rev. Alcena Boozer, June 1 984 

The Rev. Canon. Nan Arlington Peete, February 1985* 

My selection of colleagues for part two are: 

The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville Burrows, February 1998 

The Rev. Monique Ellson, June 2002 

The Rev. Cheryl Parris, September 2003 

The Rev. Mpho Tutu, January 2004 

The Rev. Paula Clark Green, January 2005 

The Rev. Anne-Marie Jeffery, January 2005 

1 Dr. Holmes-Redding was deposed on April 1, 2009 


The reason for my particular selections was based on women that I have met 
during my time as a seminarian and as a priest. These women have served as mentors, 
confidants, guides and prayer partners along my journey toward ordained ministry, after 
ordination and today. Even Pauli Murray, who I never had the opportunity of meeting, 
provided me with the opportunity to walk with her through her letters, writings and 
sermons. The only stories that have been previously published are those of the late Rev. 
Pauli Murray , Bishop Barbara Harris' and Canon Nan Peete's have been the only stories 
told in print. All the clergywomen included here have told me how they supported each 
other in seminary, at their ordinations and how they continue to be part of each others 

I was able to put together a chronological list after speaking with some of the 
early women priests and cross-referencing the names they provided and their respective 


ordination dates that were found in Louis Crew's "Directory of Black Clergy." Much of 
the material that has been written about the early ordination of women in the Episcopal 
Church has aroused my curiosity since my own matriculation as an Masters of Divinity 
student at Episcopal Divinity School. My time as an MDiv student allowed me the 
opportunity to have conversations with the Rev. Dr. Carter Heywood, in regards to her 
experience as one of the first eleven irregularly ordained women priests. My early time 
at EDS and my subsequent work experience has fostered into an interest in explaining the 
evolution of women in the priesthood. 

2 Pauli Murray's papers are housed in the Schlesinger Library, at Radcliffe Institute of Advanced 
Studies, Cambridge MA. (accessed September 10, 2009). 


The questions uppermost in my mind were: "What was it like crashing up against 
a glass ceiling? Where did you find support in your Herculean effort? What were some 
of the major stumbling blocks as a local priest and on your journey to Bishop? What was 
your spiritual journey that led you to your call to the ordained priesthood?" Concerns of 
utmost importance to me were: 

• The location of landmines along the road to becoming a priest 

• The degree of sexism, racism and other ism's within the Episcopal 
hierarchy as well as within parishes both black and white 

• Words of wisdom to other ordained women of African heritage 
Information gleaned from the interviews that was not relevant to my inquiry or too 
personal to be cited here has not been included in this thesis. 

I wanted to compare the stories of the trailblazers with those joys and difficulties 
my contemporaries are still facing. I wanted to look at my contemporaries as also being 
trailblazers serving in white and predominately white parishes. Where and how did 
contemporaries and trailblazers intersect in God's call to the ministry? For these early 
women are the ones at whose feet we sit at, listening intently while they share stories of 
joy, laughter, heartbreak and frustration, always knowing of God's presence in their work 
for ministry. 

The selection of my contemporaries as a major source of information came out of 
my wonderful experience working in an all-white parish, and having only one person that 
I knew who was sharing a similar experience at the time. My contemporaries may have 
met once or twice at the conference for black seminarians hosted by the national church, 


we may have corresponded occasionally by e-mail, but several of us lost touch with each 
other after ordination and others were not included in the conferences. I found my 
contemporaries by word of mouth and through networking among priests. I now consider 
these women I interacted with in the development of this thesis a circle of supportive 
priests. All are pursuing a common interest in the moral theology of faith as the church 
works through issues of civil rights, women's rights and liturgical reform. 

The questions asked of all respondents were identical, to look at the differences 
and the similarities over a span of twenty years. To see where these women's support 
comes from and who were their allies. To look at trends in recruitment and deployment 
of women of African heritage. To look at the prayerful places that keep them grounded 
and to share stories of their life and struggles in ministry. My contemporaries for this 
study came from a variety of backgrounds. They are single, married, married with 
children, African American, South African, and Caribbean, gay and straight. The women 
interviewed are all living on the eastern seaboard. I am cognizant that women in different 
geographical regions may have had different experiences. Nonetheless, within the 
constraints of space and focus in this thesis I wanted to adequately represent the diversity 
of our faces in the Episcopal Church. 4 

I believe the topic of this study is significant for it documents a growing 
disparagement of women clergy and the way that they are still viewed in the 21 st century, 

Black female priests are 1 8.2% of all the black priests, yet the 24 black female priests constitute 
12.8% of all black priests in charge of ECUSA congregations in the 100 domestic dioceses. Males are 
87.2% of all black priests in charge. Louie Crew "Black Priests in the Episcopal Church, 
2002, lkpr.html. (accessed September 10, 2009). 


particularly women of African heritage. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in 
Episcopal white churches and to a large measure in black Episcopal churches. While 
there is still work to be done on the anti-racism, anti-oppression fronts, the women 
contacted for this study have overcome many previous obstacles confronting them in the 
church to become agents of change. At the conclusion of the thesis I provide some 
suggestions and present a list of questions and two exercises on how the results and 
information of this study can be useful in an anti-racism, anti-oppression workshop on a 
diocesan level, or to broaden the horizons of congregations to look beyond skin color and 
gender in their search for a new rector. 

The stories of the women's experiences gleaned for this work have grounded me 
in my own African spiritual history and development. I have learned of the intersecting 
relationships that have supported and connected our lives together. I know that I am held 
up and supported by the women and men of all races who have not only gone before me, 
but who walk with me to this day. I know that I am held in a circle of love, protection, 
and prayer. Our connected stories will grow and continue with God's help. 


Episcopal Female Clergy Leaders of African Heritage, Trailblazers and Colleagues 


"Friends and countrymen! 
I speak for my race and for my people! 
The human race and just people. 
- Pauli Murray 1 

I remember attending nursery school at the Merrill-Palmer Institute for Child 
Development in Detroit, Michigan. I had been one of three African American students 
accepted for pre-school that year. I attended a racially mixed elementary school but was 
only one of three African American youth in junior high school. I graduated from 
Detroit's premier Cass Technical High School, renowned for its rigorous college bound 

At the University of Michigan I majored in Art History, where my friend John 
Hunter, a doctoral student and I were the only people of color. My first job out of college 
was serving as an art appraiser trainer and later as an art appraiser at Sotheby's in New 
York City. My love of art coupled with outstanding mentors in the world of art launched 
my fundraising career with arts organizations. From there I moved on to continue my 
fundraising career with Girl Scouts of the USA, The American Cancer Society and East 
Stroudsburg University. The constant throughout was I was typically the only person of 
color. So blazing new trails has become a way of life for me. 

1 Pauli Murray, Dark Testament and Other Poems (Norwalk: Silvermine Publishers Inc. 1970). 

I come from a long line of trailblazers; my mother was the first "colored" pharmacist 
at Hudson's Department Store in Detroit. My mother obtained her job position through 
the help of a close family friend, Dr. Francis A. Kornegay, who was then serving as 
President of the Detroit Urban League. My father was the first one in his family to attend 
college rising subsequently through the ranks of teacher, counselor, principal, school 
superintendent and college professor. As the fourth generation to attend college on my 
mother's side, stories were shared by my grandmother, grandfather and great uncle about 
the racial discrimination on university campuses. 

My journey into "Episcopal Women of African Heritage: Trailblazers and 
Colleagues", begins in the spring of 2003 with an innocent enough conversation at the 
offices of The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. The Rt. Rev. Roy Cederholm, 
known as "Bishop Bud", was getting on the elevator and said, "Call Skip Windsor in 
Needham, he's looking for an assistant." I had known Rev. Robert Windsor (Skip) 
during my time at Episcopal Divinity School, where he served on the Congregational 
Studies Committee, when I was working for The Rev. Dr. Sheryl Kujawa. As the rector 
of Christ Church, Needham, Skip had an excellent reputation for being one of the good 
guys and a solid mentor. I was excited to be presented with this opportunity. 

Christ Church in Needham, is a suburban parish located 12 miles west of Boston. 
It is surrounded by its wealthy neighbors of Wellesley, Dover and Newton. It would be 
described as a relatively affluent community, and predominately white. 

I knew nothing about the church or the town of Needham, except that Bishop Bud 
had been the former rector. After a meeting with Skip, I attended a Sunday service to get 

a feel for the parish. The call to the church became apparent to me a few weeks later 
when a Christ Church parishioner passed away and I was invited to attend the service. 
Mr. Bob Bell, the widower, spoke to me at the collation after the service, gave me a hug 
and said, "We're going to love having you, it's a great place." I began my position as 
Curate at Christ Church, Needham on August 1, 2003 and was ordained to the priesthood 
in September 1 1th of that same year. 

The three years spent at Christ Church were powerful times of spiritual and 
priestly development. I believe that we grow into our priesthood and that God works 
through us and through other people to nurture and develop that spiritual growth. I recall 
my first pastoral home visit, when accompanied by Mrs. Fran Kurker, a member of the 
parish care group introduced me to Mrs. Thelma Drake. In short, I was nervous. 
Thelma, who was white, was a long time parishioner at the church. She ran the nursery 
school, taught Sunday school, and worked in the thrift shop. You name it, Thelma had a 
part in it. Thelma, had a presence about her. I could not help feel the presence of the 
Holy Spirit in our conversations. I had had some memorable home appraisal experiences 
during my time as an art appraiser for Sotheby's in New York because of my race. In a 
few instances potential clients were surprised when the appraiser arriving to give 
estimates was African American. I wasn't sure how elderly parishioners would react to 
an African American female being their priest. From that day on until the day she died, 
Thelma became a person I not only pastored to but who also person who provided 
guidance to me. 

I believe it takes a priest secure in themselves and in their priesthood to mentor 
the newly ordained. Skip provided that guidance that I needed during those early years of 
ordained ministry. The door was always open for discussion of our views or a variety of 
church matters. I discovered that as a parish priest you must be engaged in the personal 
and spiritual lives of your parishioners. Conversations that would not have taken place in 
any of my solicitation visits or calls as a former fundraiser were now taking place on a 
very personal and spiritual level. 

My interests in ordained women of African heritage grew out of the lectures I 
heard from Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett, Rev. Dr. Sheryl Kujawa Holbrook, Dr. Katie 
G. Canon, Rev. Dr. Joan Martin and Rev. Kelly Brown-Douglas to name a few noted 
scholars. I found that most articles and books on the subject were written from the 
perspective of African American women serving in the Black Church or dealt with the 
subject of womanist interpretations of the bible. It was more difficult to find material that 
related to my particular ministry. Nowhere could I find any material regarding African 
American women working in all-white parish settings. I found myself missing the 
opportunity to connect with other women who were sharing the same experiences. 
Outside the supportive walls of Christ Church I had become somewhat of an outcast 
among some of my brothers and sisters of color and could not find a place of entry or 
support from the National Church's Office of Black Ministries. Some of the statements 
echoed from my colleagues of color were, "How'd YOU get that job?" or "Selling out to 
the white church, heh." or "Still at the man's church." "When are you coming back to 
your people." "Who did you know to get that job." All such expressions I found very 

disconcerting. The Office of Black Ministries Conferences provided plenty of 
conferences and workshops for clergy serving the black church. The Office provided no 
workshops, mentoring or any other support mechanisms for the clergy of African heritage 
who were not serving the black church. I might add a note here to say that I received no 
employment offers, inquiries or mentoring from the African American male clergy, either 
in the Diocese of Newark or in the Diocese of Massachusetts when I was first ordained. 

I thought somewhere in the corpus of womanist theological studies someone must 
already have written about this topic. I also thought that there must be other female 
clergy of African heritage elsewhere who would like to share in this particular 
conversation. I believe we are slowly entering into a new time in the Episcopal Church 
and in the whole society about how we relate to each other. This change is signaled by 
changes in the attitudes of bishops, deployment officers and search committees who 
might have maintained the notion that women of African heritage are to be deployed to 
black churches. We are now moving into a place where the ministry of women of 
African heritage is valued in a variety of parish settings. 

I also began to look differently at who I understood my Jesus to be, my 

Christology and my theology. My views had to expanded beyond pedagogy of the 

oppressed into something transformative and liberating. Prior to her death the Rev. Dr. 

Pauli Murray envisioned writing a volume of work addressing her life within the 

Episcopal Church. Pauli' s theology was based on the betterment of humanity working 

through the church to serve this end. She recalls in her writings: 

"All the strands of my life had come together. Now I was empowered 
to minister the sacrament of One in whom there is no north or south, 

no black or white, no male or female -only the spirit of love and 
reconciliation drawing us all toward the goal of human wholeness" 

I cannot enter into my own story without personal reflection and story telling of 
my background. Neither can I enter into the story about the first African American 
women ordained in the Episcopal Church without referring to two of the more notable 
books regarding people of African heritage and the Episcopal Church. 

In 1922, The Rev. Dr. George Freeman Bragg wrote History of the Afro-American 
Group of the Episcopal Church. In the introduction written by The Rt. Rev. Theodore 
DuBose Bratton, Bishop of Mississippi, Bratton praises Bragg for the "love of his church 


and his people." He goes on to say, "The book is the story of the Church of the 
Incarnation in American Negro Life, and of its fruits, an entrancingly interesting story to 
every Churchman who loves to watch what the Lord God is doing among the sons of 
men." It also should be noted however, that the stories of women laity are absent from 
Bragg' s work. 

It would be another 65 years before The Rev. Dr. Harold T. Lewis would pick up 
the mantle again in his book, Yet, with a Steady Beat: The African American Struggle for 
Recognition in the Episcopal Church which he dedicates to Rev. Bragg.. Lewis's history 
brings one up to date in terms of the recent African American history in the Episcopal 
Church. However, he writes nothing about the work of Black ordained women in the 
church. Bishop Barbara Harris notes ". . .the significant contributions of lay people, 

2 Pauli Murray, box 45, folder 806 Pauli Murray, Pauli Murray Papers, box 45, folder 806. Pauli 
Murray Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliff College, Cambridge, MA. 

3 George F. Bragg, History of the Afro-American Group of the Episcopal Church (Baltimore, 
Church Advocate Press, 1922), 27. 

4 Ibid, 28. 

especially lay women, were not given more prominence in both the historical section as 
well as the contemporary analysis." 5 

Our history as ordained women of African heritage in the Episcopal Church has 
been virtually ignored in writing by the church. Histories, and documents have been kept 
in church records, personal collections and oral histories. The notable exceptions include 
materials about the life and ordination of Pauli Murray in 1977, and the consecration of 
Barbara C. Harris as the first woman and black women bishop in 1989. An article 
"Different Voices" written by Marjorie Nichols Farmer, can be found in the collection 
edited by Catherine Prelinger Episcopal Women: Gender, Spirituality and Commitment in 
an American Mainline Denomination. The article written in 1992 gives a brief synopsis 
of the history of ordained women of African heritage. Otherwise the stories of our 
ordained sisters are a part of what is known as "the invisible church." 6 

What we bring to the table as ordained women of African heritage is our heritage, 
our ancestors, and a different social history. It does not represent one social heritage but 
a variety of voices: we are southern rooted, northern rooted, African American, Afro- 
Caribbean, African, single, married, divorced, straight, lesbian, young, middle aged and 
graceful in our maturity. What we all have witnessed is the history of institutional racism 
in our beloved Episcopal Church, but we have all witnessed also the transformative 
nature of God as God calls us to witness in our ministry. 

5 Quoted in "A compendium of Reactions to: Yet with a Steady Beat: The African American 
Struggle for Recognition in The Episcopal Church by Harold T. Lewis. Irene V. Brown, ed, Spring 1996 
Supplement, Linkage, 14. 

6 Marjorie Nicols Farmer. Episcopal Women: Gender, Spirituality and Commitment in an 
American Mainline Denomination, ed. Catherine Prelinger (New York: Oxford, 1992) 222. 

Our story as Episcopal women of the cloth is rooted in those who came before us 
to make our ordination a reality. If it Wasn 'tfor the Women is the name of a book written 
by Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, who says, "Black women community activists and 
churchwomen have a deep sense of their indispensability to the organizations and 
institutions in which they participate." We have always served in leadership roles in the 
church and done much of the work behind the scenes. Quite naturally the question is 
raised: Why is it so difficult to be able to see us on the altars of white and multi-racial 

In 1974, two years before the National Church voted to make the ordination of 


women to the priesthood canonically possible, The Rev. Paul Washington , rector of 
Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, allowed for the "irregular 
ordination" of eleven women in his parish. Washington would later recall in his book, 
Other Sheep I Have, "After the event I had time to stop and realize what I had gotten 
myself into. In obeying God in heaven, I had disobeyed the principal powers of the 
church." 9 Washington went on to recall another reflection after his admonishment from 
Bishop Ogilby. 10 "Along with the yoke of Christ, like the cross, we are to expect 
suffering, but how beautiful and fulfilling it is to endure a suffering that is life-giving and 
redemptive." 11 It would be another two years before the national church voted to make 
the ordination of women to the priesthood canonically possible. 


7 Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, "If it Wasn 'tfor the Women" (New York, Orbis, 2001), 4. 
' Rev. Washington was an early champion of women's ordination. 
The Rev Paul Washington, Other Sheep I Have (Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1994), 

10 Bishop Lyman Ogilby, Bishop, Diocese of Pennsylvania. 

11 Ibid, 172. 


In 1981 , when Bishop Barbara was asked at the Black Women's Task Force at the 

Third National Conference of Episcopal Church Task Force on Women, how does the 

black women's agenda differ from that their white sisters, she responded: 

We have a parenting function and responsibility, a pastoral care 
function and responsibility, and [a responsibility for] the preaching 
the good news to the poor, in tangible forms. But we came at it 
with different priorities, born out of different needs and different 
experiences. 12 

In recent years ordained women of African heritage have begun to move out of 
the black church, into churches of racial and ethnic diversity, and most recently into all- 
white parish settings. We have found that while we could come together around the table 
in some places it still mattered that a man set the table. Old ways of thinking of the 
minister being the male head of the church and a pastor to the community still mattered, 
not only to the congregation but to the male clergy themselves. Pauli Murray notes in her 
letters that two African American bishops, The Rt. Rev John Walker and The Rt. Rev 
John Burgess 4 were not early supporters of women's ordination. They both later 
changed their minds. Pauli' s wonderful quote from one of her unsent letters to Bishop 
Walker ends with; "God made me as I am, are you a Bishop of the Church, questioning 
God's handiwork?" traditional thinking still occupies the altars of some of some parishes, 
the doors have been gradually been opened to receive female priests of African heritage. 
We have and continue to break down glass ceiling and other barriers to our ordained 

12 Farmer, 225 

13 The Rt. Rev. John T. Walker (1925-1989) served as the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of 
Washington from 1977-1989. 

14 The Rt. Rev. John Burgess (1909-2003) served as Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of 
Massachusetts from 1962-1970. In 1970, he was elected Diocesan Bishop and served until 1975. Burgess 
was the first African- American elected to the position of a Diocesan. 

leadership. We have and continue to join together to pray for and support other female 
priest of African heritage whether we know them by name or not. 

The first section is mostly based on my interviews from four of the first eleven 
African American women ordained in the Episcopal Church. Information regarding the 
ministry of Pauli Murray came from her papers housed at the Schlesinger Library. The 
next set of stories consists of interviews from my colleagues in ministry. These women 
have worked in white and predominately white parishes. In the section "Threads" I look 
at the similarities and differences in ministries and experiences that span the course of 20 
years in ministry. The conclusion is a witness on the importance of these missing stories 
in the life of The Episcopal Church (TEC). The appendix provides educational models 
and questions to be used by search committees, deployment officers and bishops in 
raising up the ordained leadership of women of African heritage. 

I invite you as you are reading this thesis to see how your lives have possibly 
intersected with any of the women interviewed. Share with them, laugh with them, cry 
with them and freely share the stories that have been so freely presented here with others. 
Let us begin through our shared experience to continue to open the doors for those who 
will come after us. 



The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray 
Color Trouble 

If you dislike me just because 
my face has more of Sun than yours, 
then, when you see me, turn and run 

but do not try to bar the sun. 

February 1938 15 

This chapter contains to stories of five of the first eleven African American 
women ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church are chronicled. These and 
stories that chronicle spiritual journeys, experiences and words of support and 
encouragement to those women who have followed in their footsteps. 

Pauli Murray (Anna Pauline Murray) was born in Baltimore, Maryland on 
November 20, 1910. Her mother, a nurse, died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 
thirty-five, when Pauli was only three years old. 1 Because of her father's inability to 
care for all six of the Murray children, Pauli was raised by her Aunt Pauline in Durham, 
North Carolina. Living with her aunt, a school teacher, Murray knew well the drive for 
educational excellence and church activity, because the classroom and church were "a 

1 7 

natural extension of my home life when I was growing up." Pauli maintained this 

15 Pauli Murray, Dark Testament and other Poems, (Norwalk,Conn. Silvermine, 1 970), 30. 

16 Murray reflects on her mother's death in "Problem Child" Pauli Murray Papers,box 84, folder 

17 Pauli Murray, Pauli Murray: The Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest, 
and Poet (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989), 48: originally published as Song in a Weary 
Throat: An American Pilgrimage (New York: Harper & Row, 1987). 


commitment to education throughout her studies beginning in 1928 at Hunter College in 
New York City. 

After completing her bachelor's degree, Pauli worked with social-service oriented 
agencies, most notably as a field secretary with the Worker's Defense League. In 1940 
while working for the League she came in contact with Odell Waller, a man sentenced to 
die for murdering the owner of the land he sharecropped. As a result of Waller's 
execution, Pauli decided to attend law school to help eradicate legalized racism, a system 
of injustice that claimed countless victims like Waller. She enrolled at Howard 
University Law School in 1941, where she encountered some of the greatest civil rights 
scholars of her era. With their help, she began to develop and hone her legal skills and 
her acute awareness of and sensitivity to civil rights issues. Because of the civil rights 
emphasis of the school, Pauli spent a great deal of time discussing segregation and the 
law, which often indirectly affected later arguments of the National Association for the 
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 

She was directly involved in providing legal council for a group of Howard 
women in January 1 943 for refusing to pay a tax (applied to purchases made by black 
customers) on cups of hot chocolate. This outrage sparked action as students organized a 
civil rights committee, with the support of the NAACP. They used their educational 
background in law, and tools such as the "stool sitting technique," to fight for equal 

18 Pauli also had an interest in creative writing. She often corresponded with the poet Stephen V. 
Benet to gain critical comments concerning her poetry. Although Benet recognized genuine talent in her 
poetry, he advised her not to depend on poetry for a living. This contributed to her decision to pursue law. 
Dark Testament and Other Poems (Norwalk, Conn.: Silvermine, 1970) contains poetry written by Pauli 
from 1933 to 1941. 


accommodations in Washington, D.C. in 1 943-44. 19 Pauli's commitment to integration 
later resulted in an arrest while traveling to North Carolina for failure to obey Jim Crow 
transporting regulations. Her interest in nonviolent direct action also implied an 
understanding of the manner in which physical aggression eats away at the essential self 
of aggressors and victims. It is evident that she had begun wrestling with the demands of 
justice and the manner in which one's life or ultimate orientation must correspond with 
one's definition of justice. 

Pauli graduated from Howard Law School in 1944 and was ranked number one in 
her class. Based on her achievements at Howard, she applied to Harvard Law School but 
was rejected because of her gender. She practiced law in her own office and later as an 
associate in Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, one of New York City's large 
private firms. In her autobiography, Pauli recounts the awkwardness and loneliness of 
being the oldest entry-level attorney, the only African- American, and the only woman 
practicing law in the firm. It was during this time that she would meet her life-long 
partner, Irene Barlow, who was working as an executive secretary at the firm. 

Pauli, while growing restless at the firm, began to take an interest in the emerging 
movements for African independence. She decided to pursue this interest by accepting a 
post at a law school being developed in Ghana between 1960 and 1962. This time in 
Ghana also gave her an opportunity to explore her own racial identity and to reflect on 

19 Murray, Murray Papers, box 84, folder 1457. 

20 For an account of this incident, see Pauli's interview with Robert Martin on August 15 and 17, 
1968, for the Ralph J. Bunch Oral History Collection, found in the Murray Papers, box 1, and folder 8. 


7 1 

the race problem in the United States. After much discernment Pauli returned to the 
United Sates and earned a S.J.D. from Yale. With degree in hand, Pauli would hold 
many positions and appointments, including vice president and professor of political 
science at Benedict College in South Carolina, and as a member of the President's 
Commission on the Status of Women. In addition, she was an important figure in the 
development of the National Organization of Women. 

The 1960's were turbulent times, especially on college campuses. It was Morris 
Abram, the newly selected President at Brandeis University in New York City, who 
recruited Pauli to accept a position in the department of American Studies with 
encouragement to develop legal studies courses appropriate for the department. 

Pauli' s approach to activism did not prepare her for the turmoil present on the 

Brandeis campus. She hoped to foster a version of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "beloved 

community" but quickly found that this vision was not in keeping with the demands of 

the Brandeis students. She recognized that experience and perspective separated her 

from African American students on campus: 

Those forty years of intense personal history separated me from the young 
black students and gave me a somewhat different perspective on the 
ubiquitous racial dilemma which now tore at their vitals. 

Pauli would not overlook the sexism of the Black Power movement; her feminist 
perspective did not allow for this. Yet at the same time she appreciated the movement's 

21 In Ghana, Pauli grew restless to return to the states as chronicled in the letters to her dear friend 
Caroline Ware. Thaddeus M. Davis &: Linda K. Kerber eds., Pauli Murray & Caroline Ware, forty years 
of letters in black & white (Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 2006). 

' S.J.D., Doctor of Judicial Science. This terminal degree in law was then offered by a distinct 
minority of law schools. 

23 Murray, Pauli Murray, 390. 


attempt to develop an identity that restored pride and celebrated the rich cultural heritage 
of African Americans. 

Pauli gave credit to Eleanor Roosevelt and to King as the inspiration for bringing 
together issues of racism and sexism. She also remarked that reflecting on these figures 
pointed out the importance of the Christian tradition as a source of empowerment. She 
believed that at the core of the human crisis was a moral and spiritual question to be 
addressed by thoughtful people. However, her years of involvement with the Episcopal 
Church forced recognition of the problems within the Christian tradition, problems she 
could not ignore. Her involvement on the Special Commission on Ordained and 
Licensed Ministries, combined with her contacts at the Episcopal Divinity School, 
sensitized her to the sexism in the church; and in keeping with her commitment to justice, 
she vowed to leave the church before bowing to that sexism: "I had been taught all my 
life to revere the church and its teachings; now I could only condemn the church as sinful 
when it denied me the right to participate as fully and freely in the worship of God as my 
brethren. If the present church customs were justified, then I did not belong in the church 
and it became a stumbling block to faith." 24 Eventually, in protest, she left the church, 
only to return with a renewed commitment to foster change through personal example. 
Over several years, the struggle for women's full inclusion in lay activities grew to 
include a quest for the priesthood for women. 

The death of Pauli' s life partner, Irene, forced a reevaluation of her participation 
in the life of the church. As a layperson within the church she had been unable to provide 

24 Ibid, 370. 


for Irene's spiritual needs by administering last rites. This realization, combined with a 
reflection of her personal priorities, resulted in Pauli's moving toward ordained ministry. 
Questions of community and morality were not new to Pauli; she had faced these 
continuously both as a child and as an adult. This reality, combined with her strong 
spirituality, required consolidation in a way easily provided by the priesthood. However, 
some suggest that Pauli's long history as a caregiver speaks to an early interest in 
ministry. Suzanne Hiatt notes, "When the issue of women in the priesthood came up, old 
dreams and a new fight began to stir in her." 

Regardless of what ultimately moved her, she resigned her position at Brandeis in 
1973, one year after receiving tenure, and decided to bring together formally her 
religiosity and her work toward justice through ministry in the Episcopal Church. 

Pauli began her studies at General Theological Seminary in New York City with 
the ultimate goal of becoming an Episcopal priest. The value of ordination for her was 
that it would facilitate a more complex set of tools for the betterment of life in the United 
States through praxis on behalf of humanity. This general care for humanity was more 
than an internally derived imperative; it became, through call to ministry, an overt and 
institutionally recognized obligation: 

Pauli was sponsored for ordination by Emmanuel Church, Newbury Street, in 
Boston. The Rt. Rev. John Burgess, not an immediate supporter of woman's ordination, 
allowed her to be ordained in Washington, D.C. She was ordained to the priesthood in 

' Suzanne R. Hiatt. "Pauli Murray: May Her Song Be heard at Last" Journal of Feminist Studies 
in Religion 4 (Fall 1988): 69-73. The Rev. Dr. Suzanne Radley Hiatt, September 1 1, 1936 - May 30, 2002 
was one of the first eleven women ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia. 
Murray, Murray Papers, box 45, folder 86. 



January of 1977. She would spend the remainder of her life pastoring two churches, the 
Church of the Atonement in Washington, D.C. and the Church of the Holy Nativity in 
Baltimore. She also spent a good deal of time on the road as a visiting priest. She 
attended the ordinations of Mary Adebonojo, Barbara Harris and Sandye Wilson. 

Pauli knew that feminist theology was not free from flaws. She knew that the one 
danger present in feminist thought is its tendency to isolate sexism as the only notable 
form of oppression. Pauli preferred to speak of cooperation or relationships between 
racist and sexist behavior. 

Black theology had also had a difficult time maintaining a balance between issues 
of racism and other forms of oppression. From Pauli' s perspective, black theology places 
so much emphasis on black collective reality and the particular (as opposed to the 
universal) that its analysis does not extend beyond racial groups to the merit of individual 
effort and responsibility. I believe that Pauli was correct in identifying this as a harmful 
oversight that downplays individual acts of tenacity and the place of individual 
commitment in the achievement of societal equity. Pauli was rightfully disturbed by the 
manner in which the progress of black men often means the destruction of essential 
characteristics in black women - a sense of independence, forthrightness, moral 
toughness, optimism. 

The social analysis offered by feminists such as Mary Daly, Rosemary Radford 
Ruether, and Letty Russell, as well as the work of theologian J. DeOtis Roberts, proved 
to be very useful to Pauli. She found the emphasis on reconciliation within Robert's 


work inspiring, because it enhanced movement beyond discord and isolation, toward the 

emergence of a unified human family. 

Pauli understood that both feminist and black theologies spoke to a need for 

humanization and an understanding of the oppressed as subjects of history with whom 

God identifies. Although they were both vital movements towards religious and social 

betterment, neither spoke to the experiences of African American women who suffered 

because of their race, gender, and class. Black male theologians approached "women's 

issues" with suspicion, and feminists held a rather provincial conception of the 

community of women. Keeping this narrow agenda, both feminists and black theologians 

ignored the uniqueness of black women. According to Pauli: 

Negro women have tremendous power. How shall they use their 
power? How can they help Negro men and themselves to achieve 
mature relationships in the wider community without impairing this 
tradition? Or is it inherent in the struggle that Negro men can achieve 
maturity only at the price of destroying in Negro women the very 
characteristics which are stressed as part of the American tradition and 
which have been indispensable to the Negro's steep climb out of 
slavery? And if these qualities are suppressed in the women, what will 
be the effect upon the personalities of future generations of Negro 
children? 28 

Pauli proposed a theology of relationship that was pro-black, pro-woman and 
concerned with the dangers of particularization. Emilie Townes speaks of womanist 
spirituality as rooted in the striving of earlier black women, and the strength of this 
connection holds, I believe, for Pauli as well. 

7 Murray, Murray Papers, box 99, folder 1776. 

28 Ibid, box 84, folder 1458. 

29 Ibid, box 23, folder 475. 


African American women began with an intense personal experience 
of the divine in their lives and took that call to salvation into the public 
realm to reform a corrupt moral order. Their spirituality, which at first 
viewing resembles a self-centered piety with little relation to the larger 
context, is an excellent example of the linking of personal and societal 
transformation.... 120These women sought perfection and advocated 
social reforms in the framework of a spirituality that valued life and 
took seriously the responsibility to help create and maintain a just and 
moral social order. 

Pauli's theological reflection highlighted areas that would later be explored by 
womanist theologians. Her sense of personal defiance and her life mirror, I believe, are 
the essence of Alice Walker's definition of womanish. Pauli's intellectual insights into 
the omission of black women from American life and liberation struggles are a core 
component of womanist thought. In many ways I would say that Pauli provided the early 
ideological and technical framework for womanist thought. 

There is no definite connection I can make concerning the reasons for her absence 
from past as well as current womanist thought. If I were to speculate, it would be 
attributable to her grounding in the Episcopal Church. Many of the foundations of the 
womanist movement were and still are centered in the traditional black church. 

Pauli has left behind a firm foundation and has blazed a trail for other women of 
African heritage to follow. I asked Gayle Harris one day, after so much struggle, so 
many setbacks, was Pauli finally content and settled with her life and her numerous 
accomplishments when she passed on July 1, 1985. Gayle responded that she was. 

" Emilie Townes. In a Blaze of Glory, Womanist Spirituality as a Social Witness (Nashville: 
Abington, 1995), 36. 

31 Phillips, 19. 


The Rev. Mary Adebonojo 
'From about age five I was drawn to something spiritual" 

When I received Mary's interview questions by mail, I put the unopened envelope 
on my home altar and would not open it for three days. In my mind it was sacred text 
from the second African American woman ordained in TEC. Mary's writing would 
certainly be sacred history, a keepsake to be cherished and reserved. I would wait for a 
quiet moment to snuggle down in my favorite chair and let the content and words wash 
over me like a cool and refreshing breeze. Mary was honored that I included her in this 
work. She had never been asked to share her story before. 

Mary was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended the 1 9 Street Baptist Church, a 
largely middle class African American congregation. She moved to Washington, D.C. 
following a car accident that left her mother hospitalized for an extended period of time. 
Her mother's sister and her legal guardian were in charge of the Sunday school and 
Vacation Bible School, and made sure that Mary attended each of them. This immersion 
gave Mary a firm biblical foundation. 

She recalls that her extended family were devout Christians. The women were 
well educated and worked outside the home. Music and art were important and the 
family frequently sang spirituals and hymns. She was exposed to a wider world view 
through her uncle, who during and after World War II worked with people who were of 
different nationalities and cultures. She also remembers that the family members that 

2 Mary Adebonojo, interview by author, August 31, 2009. 


were Protestant were deeply suspicious of those family members and friends who were 
Roman Catholic, and vice versa. 

Mary remembers receiving a call to ministry from about the age of five, when she 
was drawn to something spiritual, but at the time she wasn't clear what form her vocation 
should take. Her call/drawing was to manifest itself in different ways and different times 
over the course of her life. Mary obtained her undergraduate degree from Radcliffe 
College and her Master's degree in folklore from the University of California at 

Following graduation she accepted a position teaching folklore and serving as 
Coordinator of the Black Studies Program at Dominican College in San Rafael, 
California. It was here that she had access to Dominicans extensive library of biblical 
studies and theology. She remembers reading the library's collection constantly. 

As a Consultant in Religious Education from a Black perspective for the Office of 
Black Ministries of the national church, then headed by Rev. Frank Tuner she had a 
profound sense of her call. She came to the conclusion that, if she was feeding God's 
people through workshops and curriculum, she should also be the one feeding them 
Eucharist. It was then she decided that whatever was "drawing" her, the road she should 
take in terms of vocation should be to the priesthood rather than the vocational diaconate. 
It was during this time that Mary wrote the book Free to Choose, for religious education 
for youth from a black perspective. 

33 Later to become Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania 1988-2000. 


The ordination process was not fully in place in the Diocese of Pennsylvania 
when Mary entered the process. She was sponsored by the Church of the Advocate; there 
was no postulancy or parish committee to help her discern her call to parish ministry. 
The newly formed Commission on Ministry met less than a week after the first irregular 
ordination of women to the priesthood. 

Barbara Harris, who was then a parishioner at the Advocate, was Mary's 
companion on her journey. Sue Hiatt served as something of a mentor, but much of her 
guidance and support came from a large number of African American and white male 
priests, both in the Diocese of PA and elsewhere, who were enthusiastically in favor of 
the ordination of women priests. 

Since she was over the age of thirty-three and had a master's degree in another 
discipline, Mary was eligible in the Diocese of Pennsylvania to sit for the General 
Ordination Exams and be ordained a transitional deacon under what she describes as the 
"Old Man's Canon after taking a minimal number of courses in the of the GOE's area. 34 
She was able to take these classes as a special student at Philadelphia Divinity School 
(PTS), before the school moved to Cambridge and joined Episcopal Theological School 
(ETS) to become Episcopal Divinity School. Her remaining year was spent at the 
Lutheran Seminary at Mt. Airy (in Philadelphia) where, to her surprise, the problem with 
her professor, who taught both the theology and ethics courses, was not her race or 
gender. It was her age and her high church leanings. Apparently the high church 
leanings was the norm with the transfers from PDS. Mary was ordained to the diaconate 

34 Mary was ordained out of the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia. 


in 1977. She could have been ordained to the priesthood in 1977 but she left to live in 
Nigeria with her husband. On returning to the states in 1 979, she was ordained to the 

Before Mary moved to Nigeria, Bishop Lyman Ogilby of Pennsylvania asked the 
Archbishop of Nigeria whether he would accept Mary as a priest. He responded with a 
vigorous "no" and accused the Bishop of trying to force him to accept a woman priest. 
Not only would Mary not be accepted in Nigeria, she would not be accepted anywhere in 
Africa. However, he would accept her as a deacon, since they had once had a deaconess 
in Nigeria from England. The Province of Nigeria still does not ordain women priests. 

Some of her work in Nigeria included preaching and conducting services at an 
interdenominational Christian Chapel at the University of Ife and serving on the Nigerian 
Council of Churches' Working Committee for the revision of the religious curriculum in 
the secondary school. 

After her return to Pennsylvania she took a half-time position of vicar/priest-in- 

charge at St. Matthias. The church is located in a neighborhood that was in transition 

from white to black, and incurring anger from the former for reaching out to potential 

members of the latter group. After Mary arrived, a number of whites signaled that they 

would be leaving the parish. Others gave her a very warm welcome. Soon after, Mary 

and her husband separated and she needed to seek a full-time position. She enrolled to do 

a CPE (clinical pastoral education) residency in preparation for a position as a hospital 

and hospice chaplain. She recalls the reason she left parish ministry, 

I felt someone else - someone more extraverted - was 
needed to do evangelism. I felt that I could work better 


where ability to relate to individuals and small groups 
was important. I felt that I needed to know more about 
the role of suffering in our lives as Christians and how 
to deal pastorally with people who are suffering. 

She worked two part-time positions, one in a parish and another as a hospital chaplain. 
When a full-time position was open at the hospital she accepted and remained there for 
almost 14 years. Into her 60' s, she decided that it was getting to be too much to stay up 
all night with a dying patient and their family and then work an eight hour day. 

Having an interest in shared ministry, Mary interviewed and was accepted for the 
position as part of a team of missioners for the Episcopal Shared Ministry of Rockland 
County, New York. Her work was to develop the ministry of the laity in four targeted 
parishes and to later broaden the ministry in the Diocese of New York. Even into her 
second retirement Mary has continued to be involved in community justice work. 

Now in her 80' s and living in New Hampshire with her second husband, Mary has 
had time to reflect on her life and ministry. She recalls that was through the efforts of 
Bishop Barbara that the first group of African American women ordained to the 
priesthood was supportive of one another. They attended one another's ordinations and 
celebrations and spent considerable time with one another. Her greatest joys have been 
participating in the ordination of the first African women to priesthood in Uganda, 
participating in the consecration of Bishop Barbara Harris, and seeing African Americans 
whom she has mentored or for whom she has served as spiritual director become fine 


She believes that women of African heritage approach the Church as an extended 
family, a place to find support, nourishment and relationships. She also believes that the 
Church is a school for leadership training and support (especially of our young), a center 
for working with the community towards its upgrading, and inspiring young people to see 
how the Gospel speaks now to the world in which they live. 

Grounded in many spiritual practices, she enjoys: weekly Eucharist, morning 
Anglican rosary, conversations with Jesus about the anticipated challenges and questions 
of the day, intercessions, confessions, and thanksgivings throughout the day. 


The Right Rev. Barbara Clementine Harris 
'Be authentic, be yourself. Do not conform to some kind of model you think is the 

Episcopal Church." 35 

This is a quote from Bishop Barbara C. Harris when asked the question, "What 
information, advice etc. would you like to pass onto women of African heritage in 
ministry now?" 

I remember my first meeting with Bishop Barbara in her office at The Diocese of 
Massachusetts. I had just been released by my Bishop John P. Croneberger to find 
employment in another Diocese, since the Diocese of Newark would not have any job 
openings. I walked into the meeting scared and nervous. She asked me to speak up 
because she could not hear me. Over the course of our conversation I grew less and less 
nervous and more and more comfortable. Eight years later as we sat down over lunch for 
her interview, there was a new sense of spirit of "connectiveness" with another African 
American female who had blazed a trail before me. 

Barbara was born into an Episcopal family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They 
attended St Barnabus Church in the Germantown section. As she says "Being Episcopal 
was just a given." Her mother, Beatrice Harris, had been the organist, choir director, and 
member of the church guild. Barbara was confirmed at 1 1 and says there was "no 
hiatus"; she was in the choir, taught church school, and started a young adult group. 

Barbara Harris, interview by author, Boston, MA. September 16, 2009. All subsequent quotes 
are taken directly from the interviews. 


Her early life was formed by the priests who served her parish, especially Father 
Ernest S. Thomas. To Barbara he was a teacher, father, guide, and held a strong 
influence in her Christian formation. She remembers that he also taught her about racism. 
She was also influenced by her Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Eveline Jones. Mrs. Jones 
"valued the lives of children." She was like an aunt. 

Before receiving the call to ordination she was active in lay ministry both at St. 
Barnabus and Church of the Advocate. She served on the vestry and ran a program for 
prison ministry. She had a feeling God was calling her to a "new dimension" of ministry. 
After some time of self-searching, she concluded that she was not worthy. This would 
lead her to what she describes as a "marathon talk" with the Rev. Paul Washington, 
Rector of Church of the Advocate. The conversation lasted from 7:00 pm until 2:00 am. 
Father Washington concluded their conversation by saying "at what point do we go to the 
Bishop?" to which Barbara replied "there is no reason to delay." She was working at the 
time as the Public Relations Manager with the Sun Oil Company, managing a team of 
twenty-six people. She opted with the permission of her bishop, Lyman Oglebee, to take 
a series of classes at a variety of theological schools in the Philadelphia area. She was 
exempt from the preaching classes her bishop did not want a class tampering with her gift 
for preaching. She finished her course of study with some resident courses at Episcopal 
Divinity School where she was to "integrate into the life of a seminary community." She 
recalls with favor that then Dean Harvey Guthrie made her feel part of the EDS 
community. Her only regret in her course of study was that she was never able to study 
under The Rev. Dr. James Forbes. 


Barbara did not want to be ordained in June as is customary. A June ordination 
would have meant that she would not be able to serve as a lay deputy to General 
Convention. After some displeasure from her Bishop, Barbara won out and was ordained 
in October 1980. 

Her first position was as a deacon intern at Church of the Advocate in 
Philadelphia; also serving as the Executive Director of Episcopal Church Publishing 
Company. One month before her ordination to the priesthood she was asked to serve at 
the St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in Norristown, Pennsylvania as Deacon-in-Charge. 
She recalls that they could be quite difficult to work with. She says she inherited two 
congregations, "one that ran the dinner dance and one that ran the fashion show. Their 
idea of stewardship was to see who could sell the most tickets to the Baptists down the 
street." At one point a group of parishioners were passing around a petition to be 
presented to the Bishop for her removal to which she responded, "Please bring me the 
petition so that I may sign it." She spent four years at St. Augustine's; her Bishop 
thought it would teach her humility. At the 1987, convention for the Diocese of 
Massachusetts it was agreed that they would hire a Suffragan Bishop. A nominating 
committee was formed and one of the six nominees was Barbara Harris. In his book The 
Miter Fits Just Fine, the Rev. Mark Bozzuti Jones describes her getting-to-know-you 
sessions; "She spoke with authority and all were amazed at her wisdom." Barbara was 
elected Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts in September 1988, less than 


36 Mark F. Bozzuti- Jones, The Miter Fits Just Fine (Cambridge, MA., Cowley Publications, 2003), 


10 years into her ordained ministry. On February 11, 1989 she was consecrated a bishop, 
the first woman to be ordained in the episcopate in the worldwide Anglican Communion. 

She recalls that over 8500 people were at her consecration, with some 60 bishops 
in attendance. People came from all over the world. To this day she still runs into people 
who were there. The local television station was initially scheduled to cover an hour of 
the service. In the end they provided coverage for all three. 

Opponents held her election against her because she was an African American 
woman, and because she had not been a rector. Some believed she had not followed the 
"usual" route of seminary training and had been an outspoken advocate for issues of 
social justice. The Diocese of North Carolina ran a picture of her with the "no" symbol 
through her face that read, "The Wrong Woman at the Right Time." 

When asked "What was it like being part of the first 1 1 African American women 
ordained in the Episcopal Church". Bishop Barbara responded that Pauli and Mary had 
gone before her. She fondly remembers Pauli as a woman who would "dress down Jesus 
Christ." In recalling her friendship with the first African American women ordained to 
the priesthood she recalls Pauli Murray attending her ordination, serving as Bishop's 
chaplain at Sandye Wilson's ordination, and preaching at Nan Arrington Peete's 
ordination. She also enjoyed some degree of closeness with Alcena Boozer although she 
lived in Oregon. 

When asked what have been her greatest joys, she responded that is was being 
called to the Episcopate. She finds her joy in confirming and receiving young people and 
adults into the church, and in having the opportunity to interact with people who have 


been affirming of her ministry. She recalls being on Cape Cod for a visitation when a 
gentleman in his 80's walked up to her and said, "Baby, keep doing what you're doing." 
She maintains that the people of Massachusetts and around the church continue to be 
affirming and welcoming to this day. 

When reflecting on experiences that are unique to priests who are women of 
African heritage, she remarks that "initially we have had limited opportunities to serve, 
this has proven to be a mixed bag. Each one of us has had their own unique experiences 
and it has ALL been interesting." Her joy has always been her calling to the Episcopate 
and having the opportunity to interact with people who have been affirming in her 
ministry. Her stated challenge was believing that "GOD had really called her to ordained 

How do "we" do church as women of African heritage? Bishop Harris took some 
time to reflect on this question. Her answer was, "The way we do church is reflected in 
our preaching. Our preaching is scripturally centered." She noted that it is our tendency 
to cite scripture as contained in the poetry of black hymns. Through that imagery we 
"draw vivid images of what scripture is trying to say. I usually close with a hymn; my 
sermons are laced with hymnody." 

A strong prayer life keeps Bishop Barbara centered, as well as people in the 
church. She keeps in touch with clergy colleagues. She looks forward to her bi-monthly 
meeting with clergy and lay people at the Diocese of Massachusetts offices. Her support 
resources are three current Trustees at Episcopal Divinity School with whom she 
regularly chats and breaks bread. 


When asked about her experience with "ism's" she stated that classism is a given. 
Her retirement has offered her an opportunity to travel on preaching and speaking 
engagements. She tries as best she can to try to honor invitations from small parishes. 
The advice she gives to those female seminarians of African heritage is, "be authentic, be 
yourself, don't try to conform to some kind of model you think is The Episcopal 


The Rev. Sandye Wilson 
'Be yourself be happy and proud of who you are. God don't make no junk!" 

The Rev. Sandye Wilson has got to be one of the busiest priests that I know. I 
first met Sandye face to face during The Diocese of Newark Convention in 2002. I was 
in my last year of seminary and she had just been called to be rector at St. Andrew and 
Holy Communion Church in South Orange, New Jersey. She was at that time the only 
African American female rector in the diocese. As a candidate for ordination, I sought her 
out, and as they say, sat at the feet of one who has gone before. From that point on an 
invitation was extended and a door was always open for further conversations and check- 
ins. During our interview she commented that the first twelve African American women 
ordained to the priesthood were all left-handed. 

Sandye was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the daughter of what she describes as a 
mixed-marriage. Her father was a sixth generation Episcopalian and her mother was 
Roman Catholic. In order for her mother to marry outside the faith, her father had to 
agree to raise the children in the Catholic tradition. She remembers well the Saturday 
confessions. In the fourth grade her parents gave her and her twin a choice as to which 
church they wanted to attend. They chose the Episcopal Church. But her early life in 
"ministry" came as a first grader when she proceeded to bless the priest. It continued 
when she came home from church and took a biscuit cutter, linens and the oil and vinegar 
cruets and proceeded to set up communion on the piano bench. After reading the Bible 

Sandra Wilson, interview by author, by phone. October 4, 2009 


cover to cover at age 1 6 she knew that she wanted to be a priest. She remarked that being 
a nun was out of the question. 

The call to ordination didn't come with a bang but with the quietness of a still, 
almost imperceptible voice. It was a call to be a contemplative activist. Sandye tells her 
life story in wonderfully vivid imagery. In her sense of call she sees herself as a "vessel 
through which God's grace is imparted to people and to the world." Her sense of call is 
to be a "coach, encourager, a vision bearer, to walk with folks during difficult times." 
She believes that she is called to have a pastor's heart, a keen intellect, and to speak truth 
to power. 

Sandye felt that before she began the process she needed to have work experience 
in the secular world and to be able to contextualize the experience. Her secular 
experiences included work as a corporate lending officer, a micro-economist, and a 
reporter and writer in business and economics. While living in New York City, she 
became involved with the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. It was here that she 
began her foray into parish ministry. After being accepted into the process and carefully 
considering her seminary options, she chose to attend Union Theological Seminary. She 
recalls that at the time there were two other students actively involved with the Office of 
Black Episcopal Seminarians (OBES), Nelson Foxx and Michele Thornton. Kelly Brown 
Douglas was to follow Sandye at Union. 

She describes her ordination process as being good and fair. There were two 
prayer book examinations that were part of her General Ordination Exam process, one for 
the 1979 edition and the other for the 1929. She says, "They wanted to make sure that 


people were up to snuff." Out of the twenty-eight people with whom she entered the 
process, there were only three who made it through to ordination. The Bishops involved 
with her formation were The Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, 38 The Rt. Rev. Walter Dennis, 39 and 
The Rt. Rev. Harold L. Wright. 40 Sandye was the first African American woman 
ordained in the Diocese of New York, in 1980. 

She has been blessed with a myriad of mentors and people foremost in her 
journey to ordained leadership: Pauli Murray, The Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, 41 and The 
Rev. Jeffrey Cuffee, to name a few of her supporters. One of the stories she shares about 
Pauli was that Sandye was teaching her how to sing mass before the Delta Sigma Theta 
Boule. 42 Pauli practiced and practiced, and then on the day of the celebration of the 
Eucharist, in her "Clark Wallaby shoes," she said, "Oh, hell I can't sing that." She spent 
hours in conversation with Pauli, about God, life, poetry and friends. Sandye last spoke 
with Pauli on June 30, 1985, before she passed away the next day. 


The Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman was considered by Sandye and others to be a 20 
century holy man. She describes him as a man of few words. She credits the Rev. A. 

38 The Rt. Rev. Paul Moore (1919 - 2003), the 13 th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York 

39 The Rt. Rev. Walter D. Dennis (1932 - 2003), Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of 
New York, second African-American male to be consecrated bishop. Sandye remained in conversation with 
Bishop Dennis for 25 years, no matter where they lived. 

40 The Rt. Rev. Harold L. Wright, Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 1974- 

41 The Rev. Dr Howard Thurman (1899 - 1981), Dean of Theology at the Chapels at Howard 
University and Boston University. He was known as a black mystic. Thurman also served as spiritual 
advisor to Pauli Murray. 

42 Delta Sigma Theta Boule, AS®, is a Greek-lettered sorority of college educated woman who 
perform public service and place emphasis on the African-American community. They were founded at 
Howard University, Washington, DC on January 13, 1915. Boule is the regulating institution of the 
sorority and meets every two years. 


Jeffrey Cuffee Jr. with teaching her how to be a priest, to make the needs of others 
paramount. His words to her were, "be by being." 

Her first position was as a curate at Grace Episcopal Church in White Plains, NY. 
She recalls the services like this: "It was a salt shaker at the 8:00, pepper at the 9:15, salt 
and a bit of pepper at the 10:30, and hot sauce at the 12:30." To Sandye it was a joy to do 
ministry. She was active in mission and outreach, reaching out to those in prisons and in 
mental facilities. 

Sandye was called to be rector of St. Mark's Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut, 
in 1982, becoming the first African American female to be the rector of a parish. Almost 
simultaneously she began to combine her parish ministry with her love of academia, 
holding parallel positions on the faculty of institutions of higher education. She sums up 
her ministry by saying, "[My ministry] is to help others discover their gifts, to celebrate 
their gifts and for me to then move on." 

"Great" is the word she used to describe being part of the first group of African 
American female priests. She further describes the sisterhood of female priests as 
providing a deep rooted sense of commitment, support, and the comfort of having women 
praying for each other's safety, health and ministry. 

While the joys in her ministry are bounteous, a few are extraordinary, inspiring, 
and indelibly etched on one's memory, such as seeing people fall in love and be involved 
with God, witnessing people's perseverance in their spiritual development, the dazzle in 
their eyes when they know they are in tune with goodness and divine grace. Perceiving 


when people are able to recognize Christ in one another, and realizing "what we do and 
what we say makes a difference in the community." 

"We have a unique opportunity" she affirms "To bring a lived hermeneutic to 
what we say and do as priest of African American heritage." She believes that female 
clergy of African heritage have an opportunity to set an example for young women 
regarding dress, attitude, speech and style. African American women represent their 
race, and the heritage of the women who came before them and those who will follow. 

Sandye believes that music is the universal language that embodies how women 
of African heritage "do church." We draw on music "from a variety of sources with a 
message to come and see" and "run and tell." Feeding people on all levels and 
developing a connection with God are key components in her ministry. "Overworked 
overachievers" and "natural born leaders" are words that she uses to describe women of 
African heritage working in ministry. 

What keeps Sandye spiritually centered in her life is daily morning and evening 
prayers, visits to Iona, and the singing and chanting of a Taize service. She enjoys 
talking on the phone and reads regularly. Her support comes from the touchstones of her 
life, good friends and colleagues. 

When asked about her relationship with Black male clergy in the Diocese of 
Newark, she says that it is "generally good because I do all the work." She believes that 
the Christ in her needs to meet the Christ in them." 

Her encounters with racism, sexism and other "isms" are on a daily encounter. 
She continues, "People are scared of you, because they think you have too much power." 


If you have "corporate memory" then you are scary. She concludes by saying that 
"people are scared of power." 

After twenty-nine years in ministry the advice she would like to pass on is, "be 
yourself, be happy and proud of who you are. God don't make no junk! You are a gift to 
God and to the church." She then recall, some advice given to her by Bishop Paul 
Moore: "remember to keep priorities straight, first is family, second is your prayer life 
and third is to the ministry, and never get comfortable in your ministry." She continues 
"everyone has a gift, celebrate those gifts." "Your responsibility is to help others 
discover their gifts. She said, to quote Bishop Barbara, "It is better to be loving than to 
be right." 


The Rt. Rev. Gayle Elizabeth Harris 
"I am a priest not by putting on the collar. I am a priest by putting on the cross." 43 

I recall that June 1, 2000 was sunny and seasonably cool, a perfect day for the 
election of a new Suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Massachusetts. A number of 
students, including myself, were attending a Congregational Studies workshop at 
Episcopal Divinity School. We had been staying abreast of the slate of candidates and 
the balloting. Names had been swirling around since Bishop Barbara had announced her 
retirement. Emails had been sent regarding who would have their names placed in 
nomination and who shouldn't. Even before Barbara's announcement was made formal, 
the name of Gayle Harris from Rochester, New York was on the tip of most everybody's 
tongue as Massachusetts' next Bishop Suffragan. As the election began one of my 
classmates had her cell phone with her and kept receiving phone calls from convention 
regarding the voting results. It was during our afternoon break that we received word that 
Gayle had been elected on the second ballot. 

Gayle' s consecration was held at Trinity Church, Copley Square, on January 18, 
2003, one of the coldest days of that winter. I was sitting near the front in the pews that 
were reserved for members of the Union of Black Episcopalians. Although the weather 
was brutally cold, the service was filled with the warmth of the spirit. The party 
afterwards included a myriad of black bishops, clergy and laity, some of whom I had not 
seen from my childhood days at Grace Episcopal Church in Detroit. 

43 Gayle E. Harris, interview by author, Cambridge, MA. September 17, 2009. 


Gayle's roots are solidly Midwestern. She was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but the 
family moved to Chicago, Illinois when she was young. Her religious upbringing was 
between her mother's Baptist church and her father's United Methodist church. She also 
spent time in the Episcopal church as well as the Presbyterian church with her cousins. 
At the age of 14, when given a choice into which denomination she would like to be 
baptized, she choose the Presbyterian Church. It was at Chatham United Presbyterian 
Church in Chicago that she preached her first sermon. 

It was in 1973, during her undergraduate years at Lewis & Clark College in 
Portland, Oregon, that she joined the Episcopal Church. She recalls that 1975 was an 
exciting time in the church, with women's ordination on the agenda at the General 
Convention. It was during this time that she says she received the call to ordained 
ministry. Originally, she had set her eyes on becoming a permanent deacon. However, 
her vicar at Holy Cross Chapel asked her, "Why would you limit yourself." That same 
night God spoke to her and said that she was called to be His priest. The Bishop of 
Chicago, James Montgomery, posed a question to her. He asked, what she would do if 
General Convention did not approve the ordination of women. Gayle responded: "it's 
going to happen." She still ran away from the call for another two years, but God spoke 
to her impatiently one evening, as she was driving in Chicago. She answered, "ok Lord", 
and knew then she had to get serious. 

After acceptance into the process, Gayle attended Church Divinity School of the 
Pacific (CDSP). She was the first African American to be admitted and the second 
African American to attend in ten years. She appreciated the theological education and 


the diversity of denominations that were represented at the seminary. She appreciated 
CDSP treating students as though they already had a ministry and were being called to 
another level. At the time, Bishop John Walker was serving on the Board of Trustees at 
CDSP; he was able to provide her with a pastoral presence. She recalls the "twinkle in 
his eye" and "an all knowing look" when they first met. 

When Gayle made visits home she would meet with Bishop James Montgomery. 
However it was Bishop Quentin Primo, who really was her spiritual guide during her 
process. He was her mentor in many ways, telling her what to do and what not to do. He 
kept reminding her that because she was a black woman she had to be twice as good as 
everyone else. He gave her advice on what to read, how to carry herself, who to make 
contact with, and what kind of events she should attend. He became more of a parish 
priest to her. 

Her final interview for the diaconate took place in the spring of 1981. At that 
time she was informed that the committee had given her an ordination date of June 19 th . 
She was to have her own ordination and would not be ordained in the Cathedral on June 


5 with her male candidates. Her ordination was to take place in her home parish. When 
she asked if Bishop Primo could ordain her, Bishop Montgomery said to her with great 
patience, "This will be the only opportunity that I will be able to lay hands on you and I 
want to say I laid hands on you. Now let's talk about what diocese will you be going to 
get a job?" 

Looking back she understood his reasoning. She would have been a bit of a 
problem to place in a position. Male black clergy were against women's ordination. 


Black men served black churches and white men served white church and there was no 
mixing of the races. 

She left for the Diocese of Newark, two days after her ordination to the deaconate. 
She had accepted a position as curate at Grace Van Borst, in Jersey City. Once again 
Gayle was not permitted to be ordained to the priesthood with the other men. Bishop 
John Shelby Spong ordained Gayle in February of 1982. It was then Rev. Chet Talton 
who preached at her ordination. She remembers him saying, "I wish I were you Gayle, I 
wish I were you, young, gifted, black and female." She recalls that people were in shock 
and disbelief. But he also said, "enjoy this night, enjoy this night Gayle because once 
you are priested, you will be entering the belly of the beast of racism." He said it so 
strongly that Bishop Spong had to give a second sermon during the offertory. 

Although conditions were less than ideal in Jersey City, Gayle flourished in her 
ministry. She was pastor of a parish whose congregation consisted of drug addicts, 
people receiving government assistance, and a few professionals. It was a parish that had 
been very involved in social justice ministry but had fallen on hard times. She was able 
to take her ministry into the streets of Jersey City, where she was known as Father Gayle. 

With her ministry developed and grounded in community works, she became the 
assistant and urban resident at St. Phillips the Evangelist in Washington, D.C. The parish 
was known for its outreach, its sense of fellowship, and for some of the best music in the 
black worship tradition. She went from there to become Priest-in-Charge at Holy 
Communion Church. Once again she was a viable presence in the community, 


welcoming people in to the church. The church serves today as the Bishop John T. 
Walker School for Boys. 

Her first call as a rector was to the newly merged parish of St. Luke's and St. 
Simon in Rochester, New York. St. Luke's Parish was the mother church in Rochester. 
Founded by Col. Rochester, it had the building and the money, but a dying congregation. 
St. Simon of Cymene was founded by blacks who had moved North after World War I 
and they had the people. Her job was to make the congregation function as one. She 
thought it would be the parish from which she could retired. She found joy in this parish 
and the journey that they shared together. It was from her garden in Rochester that she 
received the call from Bishop M. Thomas Shaw III, that she had been elected Bishop 

"A self sustaining community of sisters," is how Gayle describes being part of the 
first class of ordained African American women. She recalls that most of the women 
came from the northeast corridor: Sandye from New York, Pauli from Baltimore and 
Washington D.C., Norma was in Washington, D.C., Mary and Barbara from Philadelphia 
and Anne and Nan from New York. They were always just a sister away from each 
other. They shared a concern that other sisters of African heritage would not being lifted 
up to ordained ministry. It felt as though it would be a long time before getting past the 
number fifteen. 

Gayle's greatest joy is being part of TEC. She is so proud of and nurtured by the 
church. She believes that it is through our Baptismal covenant that we understand that 
we are first Christians, second Episcopalians, and that we live in the diversity of that 


understanding. Some of the frustration she feels is when she sees people who do not 
"respect the dignity of every human being," in seeking and finding Christ in every 
person. She believes that we have more in common than not: "Our holiness is not based 
on what we do or don't do; it is based on God's presence. I cannot see God walking away 
from any of us, if we are willing to walk with God and each other." 

Still, she experiences times of racism and sexism: "Our church reflects our society 
and our society reflects our church. We black women are admired for our strength, but at 
times this can become offensive to others. We don't know our place when we try to 
assume our full leadership in this church. It is fine to admire Oprah and Michelle Obama, 
from afar. It would be different if they put on vestments and called themselves your priest 
or bishop." 

The people who were foremost in Gayle's journey are and have been the best of 
the best of black male clergy. She was lucky enough to experience the Union of Black 
Episcopalians at its best. During the 1980's, UBE was politically astute, theologically 
grounded and strategic in understanding its mission. She has kept company with some of 
the best clergy of African heritage in the church, Bishop Chet Talton, Bishop Frank 
Turner, Rev. Herald Lewis, Rev. Joe Green, and Bishop Barbara Harris. Among the laity 
she remembers the late Mattie Hawkins, who she called the backbone of UBE, the lay 
people of Holy Cross Chapel, and her cousin Jane Harris Logan. 

She feels her sense of call from the time she wakes up until she goes to sleep. 
When asked would she be happy, content or satisfied doing anything else, she said no. 
Even when being a priest can be frustrating, demanding and stressful, it is always full of 


grace. She would not be complete in her being if she wasn't a priest. "It is not about 
putting on the collar, it is about putting on the cross. The collar comes after the cross." 
She says that this is the way she gets dressed in the morning. "People can sometimes get 
confused with symbols and positions, but we are called because it is part of our being." 

The list would be exhaustive if I were to name all of the groups that Gayle has 
been involved in. She is serving on the CREDO board, the National Church Theology 
Committee, and has recently stepped down as the Vice-Chairperson of the Church 
Pension Fund. She has served on standing committees, bishop search committees, and as 
deputy to General Convention, to name just a few of her contributions and involvements. 

The words she passes on to women of African descent are to "remember that you 
are a child of God, precious and beloved, lay or ordained and no one can take it away. 
Let joy abound and strength be nourished." The last is "no matter what, God loves you 
and there is nothing that anyone else can do about it. God loves you and will always love 


The Rev. Canon Nan Arrington Peete 
"The Kingdom is not here yet." 44 

"Women of African heritage are more grounded in the gospel of Jesus. We know 
in the deepest part of our soul that we are a beloved child of God. The people of God 
help us to believe it. The unconditional love we have we want to share without bounds." 
This quote from Nan Peete describes women of African heritage are engaged in the work 
of the church. 

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Nan remembers that her earliest memory of her 
religious and spiritual upbringing was influenced by her grandmother, Clanton. After 
high school she married and had two children. The family then relocated to Los Angeles. 
Her first encounter with the Episcopal Church in Los Angeles was after she saw the 1 963 
cover of Ebony magazine featuring the singer, Nat King Cole and his family. The article 
mentioned that they attended St. James Episcopal Church on Wilshire Boulevard. She 
arrived at the church and recalls a frosty reception from even the black members of the 
congregation. After that experience the family began attending St. John's, located in 
downtown Los Angeles, which was later to be her sponsoring parish. The parish was 
active in issues of social and political justice. She recalls that the parish kept its front 
doors locked in opposition to the draft. It also ran a draft counseling center and provided 
a great deal of outreach to the community it served. Nan was extremely active in the 

44 Nan Arrington Peete, interview by author, September 25, 2009. 


parish while pursuing both her B.A. in economics and M.A. in human resource 

Her call to the ordained priesthood came to her while listening to a Sunday 
sermon at her parish. She said to herself, "I should be up there preaching," to which she 
answered, "I don't think so" followed by, "Why not me?" When she went to dinner with 
her husband, Robert, and shared her thoughts, he responded by saying "Now you'll get 
paid for what you do for free." She than began the ordination process, becoming the first 
African- American female to be ordained in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She recalls 
when Barbara Harris had spent some time in conversation with her talking about the 
ordination process. With two high school age children, she could not uproot her family. 
Her seminary education began at Bloy House, a seminary program of the Diocese of Los 
Angeles, which caters to commuting students. She still maintained a full-time job as a 
management consultant with Coopers and Lybrand accounting firm. In 1982, after her 
children left for college, she enrolled in General Theological Seminary (GTS) for her last 
two years. 

While GTS was not her first choice, she loved seminary. Here she had the chance 
to shape and form her spiritual connection. When she arrived at GTS she recalls that 
"there was still controversy over women seminarians and priests." 45 During her time at 
General Theological Seminary, Nan and Ann Holmes Redding became close friends. 
Both black and white classmates were not completely embracing of either Nan or Ann. 

Quoted in A Historical Overview of the Presence and Experience of the African Diaspora at the 
General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church. Thesis for the degree of Master of Divinity, 
Robert Jermonde Taylor, May 20, 2009, 41. 


When she went to investigate her field education setting, she knew that there were "many 
black male priests in Manhattan who did not accept women seminarians or priests." 46 
She found a mentor and teacher in the Rev. Canon Frederick B. Williams (GTS 1963). 47 
Canon Williams was serving as rector of Church of the intercession on 155 th Street in 
Manhattan. He was considered an excellent field education supervisor and mentor to 
black female seminarians. Another one of Canon Williams' seminarians during this time 
was Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, who was attending Union Theological Seminary at 


the same time. One of her more memorable experiences was at a community meeting at 
GTS when the topic of inclusive language in worship was raised. She remembers 
walking outside the seminary after the discussion and being called all sorts of names: 
"Inside the seminary, my gender and race were not represented and God was always he. 
When we tell our stories in the context of scripture and reality, it makes an impact on 
people." Under Nan's influence GTS adopted an inclusive language policy. 

She recalls fondly the people who have been her mentors along the way like 
Barbara Harris who believed in her and supported her during her process and her move 
into ordained ministry. Nan was ordained in 1 984. Barbara Harris preached at her 
ordination. Her first position was as a curate at St. Mark's church in Upland, California. 
A 700 member parish, inclusive of its four black members. After a year at St. Mark's she 
was called to become rector of All Saints Church in Indianapolis. It was at All Saints that 
her ministry soared. She recounts to Mary S. Donovan in her book Women Priests in the 


46 Taylor, 41. 

47 The Rev. Canon Frederick Boyd Williams, (April 23, 1939 - April 4, 2008). 

48 Dr. Brown-Douglas is the Director of the Religion Program at Goucher College, Baltimore, 


Episcopal Church: 

All Saints draws members from throughout the city. "The 
congregation represents the broad spectrum of the body of 
Christ," said Peete. "We have relatively few children, several 
families, many singles - it's about thirty percent black. Many 
people have been surprised that a high-church parish would 

call a women priest All Saints parish has a true 

sense of what Catholicism means in terms of being universal 
and accepting of people. 49 

She hit the ground running at All Saints, serving as administrator for the Parish's 
outreach program as well as providing to the pastoral needs of her congregation. 

It was during this time that she was invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury, 
Robert Alexander Kennedy Runcie, to serve as the first ordained woman to address the 
1988 Lambeth Conference. The Archbishop had appointed her as a consultant to the 
conference. In that role she addressed all of the bishops of the Anglican Communion on 
the feast of Mary Magdalene (July 22) in a program carried on closed circuit television. 
She was also a speaker at the pre-Lambeth meeting in Cambridge of the Afro-Anglican 

The Rt. Rev. Frank Kellogg Allan asked her to consider the position as Canon to 
the Ordinary in the Diocese of Atlanta after becoming aware of her work. 50 In her 
discernment she felt at this time that she had been called to serve on a Bishop's staff. She 
accepted the position in 1989, despite protests from within the Diocese. While Bishop 
Allan was very supportive of women's ordination he was less so when it came to matters 
of the inclusion of gay and lesbian clergy. By the end of her time on the Diocesan staff in 

49 Mary S. Donovan, Women Priests in the Episcopal Church (Forward Movement Publication, 
Cincinnati, Ohio, 1988) 142. 

50 Bishop Allan, 8 th Bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta, 1987 - 1989. 


1994, because of her ministry, Bishop Allan would become an ally. She considers 
Atlanta, where she had to deal face to face with issues of racism and sexism, to be the 
hardest position that she has held. However, she believes the Diocese is not the same, 
and is more inclusive in areas of race and culture because of her ministry. 

She was called to Trinity Church on Wall Street in 1 994 by The Rt. Rev. Herbert 
A. Donovan, Jr. to be the Associate for Pastoral Care and Outreach. 51 At a church known 
for its diversity of worship and attendance, she bridged the spectrum of a parish of 
wealthy patronage on the weekdays and a parish of color on Sundays. Jennifer 
Baskerville-Burrows remembers Nan as a beacon of light and support to black 

What a blessing she received when she was called in 1999, by the late Rt. Rev. 
Herbert Thompson to be the Canon for Ministry in the Diocese of Ohio. Here she was 
responsible for the ordination process, clergy deployment, and the congregational search 
process. From there she accepted a call to serve as Canon for Clergy Deployment and 
Ordination in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. She notes that she has held the same 
position three times with different titles. 

Nan has retired from the Diocese of Washington but is still serving as a national 
consultant for parishes. Her other retirement position is working at Holy Communion 
Parish in Washington, DC. 

51 Bishop Donovan had served as the 1 1 th Bishop of Arkansas from 1981 - 1993. He was called as 
vicar in 1993 and served until 1997. 

,2 Bishop Thompson, (1932-2006) served as the 8 th Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio from 


She did not think about being part of the first group of African American women 
to be ordained in the Episcopal Church as the time it was happening but she reflects, 
"Barbara Harris, Gayle Harris, Ann Holmes Redding and Sandye Wilson and I were 
bonded together to form a community." She recalls that black male clergy were not 
supportive of them at a Black Clergy Conference that was held in Ocean City in 1987. 
The treatment continued at the Afro- Am Conference that was held in Barbados when a 
group spoke out against women priests with Barbara Harris sitting on the panel. It was 


the late Bishop Walter Dennis who to that opposition affirming the ministry of women. 
Other supporters would include Rev. Kwasi Thornell, Rev. Cn. Fred Williams, and 
Bishop. Frank Turner and Rev. Cn. Harold Lewis. 

Because of the amazing support she has received from clergy and friends during 
her ministry, she passes these words on to women in the process, "not to be a lone ranger, 
develop a support system, and do not get caught up in the negative and to always find 
joy." As a woman priest she feels that we are called to "love ourselves as we are." A 
reminder she shares is that "just because we have a woman Presiding Bishop doesn't 
mean that the 'isms' are done." She is kept grounded and centered by friends in and 
outside the church, her telephone and an avid interest in professional sports teams. 
Finally she says "The kingdom is not here yet." 


Bishop Walter Decoster Dennis (1932-2003), Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of 
New York, 1979-1998. The second African American in the Diocese to hold post and the 19 th Black 
Bishop of the Episcopal Church. 


Chapter II: Colleagues 
The Rev. Jennifer Baskerville Burrows 

"Can You Break Through the Ceiling?" 54 

The assumption that female clergy of African heritage by the virtue of their color 
automatically make them the best candidates for positions in the black church needs to be 
eliminated. The life experiences of my colleagues have been eclectic, by virtue of the 
necessity to function in a multi- cultural, multiethnic and multiracial society and the 
world. We find comfort, security, and naturalness in whatever group we find ourselves. 
These stories shed some light on what this new generation of ministry in TEC is 

"There are jobs or churches that I applied to that I didn't get considered 
for," she said. "But when I see some of my friends who are white males 
who have the same difficulty in getting those level jobs, then I go, 'It's 
all about what's the right fit.'" 

Despite her popularity at Grace Church and in the Central New York 
area, Baskerville-Burrows does not doubt that one day she may hit a 
glass ceiling because of her race. She does encounter the occasional 

"I had this one person say to me, 'well, I want to talk to you about urban 
ministry," Baskerville-Burrows said. "I was like, 'I don't know about 
urban ministry. I just got here! I'm going to be doing urban ministry, but 
just because I'm black doesn't mean I've done it. I've been in wealthy 
churches the whole time. I don't know anything about poverty." 


Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, interview by author, September 28, 2009. 
"Female Priest 's Views Differ from Mainstream Christian Values ", Miyoko Ohtake,The Daily 
Orange, January 15, 2007. (accessed October 17, 2009). 


In the pecking order of women of African heritage working in all white 
congregations, we would all agree that Jennifer is our trailblazer. I heard of Jennifer's 
ministry at St. Peter's in Morristown, New Jersey, and in the wider church when I was 
wrestling with my own call to ministry in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. 56 

Jennifer came to The Episcopal Church after she graduated from college with a 
concentration in architecture and historic preservation. Moving to New York City she 
joined Trinity Church Wall Street. It was there she met The Rev. Canon Lloyd S. 
Casson. She was drawn at this time to the environmental work that was being done at 
Trinity. She recalls a conversation with God in which God said "You can combine 
religion, architecture and art." It was also at this time that she met and was mentored by 
Rev. Nan Arrington Peete, who was on the Trinity staff. Jennifer recalls that Nan was a 
mentor to her providing pastoral counseling and her wisdom and advice. Jennifer was 
honored since she had thought to herself that "the great Nan Peete surely would not have 
time for me." Choosing to return to graduate school Jennifer was accepted to Cornell 
University, and commuting to New York City proved to be challenging. She transferred 
her membership to the Episcopal Church at Cornell University. She was accepted into 
the process in 1994 and that Fall began her seminary training at Church Divinity School 
of the Pacific. She was ordained as a Deacon in June 1997 and to the Priesthood in 
February 1998. 

56 Jennifer has been involved on the Commission on the Status of Women, Episcopal Women's 
Caucus, Deputy at the 2006 and 2009 General Convention, Council of Advice for the President of the 
House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson 


Her first position was serving as an Associate at St. Paul's in Endicott, New York. 
She recalls that the town was where IBM was founded, but at that time it was a dying 
industrial town. There were four African- Americans including herself in a congregation 
of 150. They were "Anglo-Catholic in a low belly church building." This proved to be 
an isolating and lonely experience. She spent her time taking on some historic 
preservation work, gardening and piano lessons. Although there was a 30 year age 
difference between her and the rector, she recalls that he became her mentor. Class 
differences played a larger part of the picture than race. She remained at this position for 
a year and a half. 

She left St. Paul's to become Associate Rector at St. Peter's in Morristown, New 
Jersey. The Rev. Zachary Fleetwood created a position tailored to what she wanted: 
Christian Formation, youth, women's ministry. She recalls being the "only" when she 
arrived; the only woman of color on staff, the only woman of color in the Diocese of 
Newark. The cultural divides were huge and it was difficult for her to have a 
conversation sometimes with her male clergy of color. Jennifer was serving at St. Peter's 
when September 1 1 happened. There were a number of parishioners that were lost and 
she recalls that the situation "was tough and a lot of work." She knew that CDSP was 
looking for a Director of Alumni and Church Relations; she applied and accepted the 
position in 2002. She also served as the Pastoral Associate at All Saint's, San Francisco. 

Realizing that she was more an east coast than west coast person, she welcomed 
an opportunity that was presented for her to move east again. In December of 2003 for 
her to become the part-time rector at Grace Church, and part-time chaplain at Hendrick's 


Chapel at Syracuse University. Grace is a racially diverse church known for its history of 
social activism. The work she is currently engaged in allows her to express her greatest 
joys, "walking with people as they dig into their spiritual life." She says "It is the young 
people that are bringing life to the parish." Her challenge is being a half-time priest at 
both places. She notes that being half-time makes getting things done a lot slower. She 
notes that because she had moved much in her ministry she feels a call to stay at Grace 
for a while. 

Her spiritual practices involve daily prayer that looks different every day, yoga, 
and spiritual direction. Support resources include friends and colleagues, women's 
clergy groups, visioning and managing change with her Congregational Development 
Coach, and attending spiritual retreats. 

The wisdom that she would like to pass on to women of African heritage in the 
process would be to be savvy and authentic. She believes that church, while being well- 
intentioned can also be fickle. She also stresses that it is important to have a council of 
advisors, and friends whom you can go to for anything, to laugh, to cry and to celebrate. 

7 The Rev. David Pendleton Oakerhater was baptized and deaconed at Grace. He is the first 
Native American saint in the Episcopal Church. 


The Rev. Monique Ellson 


'God will do the work of transformation" 

It is often said in TEC that we all know each other, or certainly know someone 
who knows someone. This is certainly the case with Monique and I. Our paths and mine 
have crossed a number of times and we had never met each other until her name was 
recommended for this project. She was baptized by Rev Frederick Boyd Williams, while 
he was serving as rector of St. Clements Episcopal Church, Inkster, Michigan. Her 
mother served as the parish administrator. This meant that Monique went to church 
every day during the summer. It was here that she became comfortable in church and 
comfortable with clergy. Later the family transferred its membership to St. Matthews & 
St. Joseph's Church in Detroit, Michigan, 5 where The Rev. Orris Walter was serving as 
priest. 60 As a sports enthusiast Monique' s call to ordination followed coaching a really 
bad volleyball match. She recalls it well: a voice said "Monique you will be a priest in 
the church." She immediately called her mother and a good friend to assist her in making 
some sense of this provocative and prophetic message. 

Because of transitions that were occurring at St. Matthews & St. Josephs, 
Monique was sponsored out of Christ Church, Detroit and chose to attend seminary at 
Seabury Western in Evanston, Illinois. 61 In her MDiv program she was the only person 

58 Monique Ellson, interview by author, October 8, 2009. 

' 9 Established in 1845 St Matthews was the oldest African- American Episcopal parish in Detroit. 
The church was closed and merged with St. Joseph's in 1971. 

60 Rev Walker was later elected as the Bishop of Long Island. 

61 In the fall of 2008 the seminary no longer matriculates students for the traditional Masters of 
Divinity degree. 


of any color. While the seminary did have a component of anti-racism training, it was 
felt among the student body that it was more of a cursory guilt trip than a beneficial 
process. After some conversation with both faculty and staff, Crossroads was brought 
in to engage participants in a more substantive view of diversity, an invitation which 
proved to be beneficial for the school. Nevertheless, the road to ordination she describes 
as difficult. She remembers that she had very little contact with her Commission on 
Ministry liaison. It wasn't a particularly prayerful time of discernment for her, most of 
the time she felt that she was jumping through hoops just to stay ahead of the curve. 
Monique's call to ordination never waned and she ordained in June of 2002. 

Her first cure was as an assistant at St. Paul's Church in Lansing, Michigan. 
While she was very pleased to be able to work with the rector, Rev. Gordon Weller, her 
desire was to work in the city of Detroit. St. Paul's was a predominately white parish, 
with a variety of outreach projects and programs. The parish was one of the first in the 
Diocese of Michigan to establish a Sudanese education program for a number of young 
men who had moved into the area. One of the challenges that she faced was of being true 
to herself so that it was during this time that she came out as an lesbian. While it was a 
time of liberation for her, she recalls that a number of people left the parish as a result. 

Her next position was as the Assistant Rector at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, 
located in the heart of Philadelphia's Society Hill area. She sees her ministry as a one on 
one for God, where she is called to make disciples, and empower those people for the 
work of ministry. In this she believes that the church should be composed of more than 

The work of Crossroads is to dismantle systemic racism and build anti-racist multicultural 
diversity within institutions and communities. 


just the duties of a priest as it is outline in the Book of Common Prayers, it should be 
seen as a working community. She recalls that it was difficult for her to "find her place" 
at St Peters. After a period of discernment the parish and Monique amicably parted 

Subsequently, Monique has moved to the Washington D.C. area. Her passion for 
parish ministry she sees as a place for evangelism, church growth, and connection to the 
community. She is currently serving as an Assisting Priest at the historical African- 
American parish of St. Luke's in Washington D.C. She considers this time to be a 
place of continued discernment, moving into a place where God is calling her to minister. 
She is thankful for Rev. Virginia Nolan-Brown for giving her a place to take her hat off. 
She is also thankful to The Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton 65 and his staff who have made a place 
for her in the Diocese of Maryland. Some of her greatest joys are to sit across the table 
with someone who loves God, but nobody knows it but them, or, to watch the members 
of St. Luke's who are in their eighties connect with people in their twenties, and vice 

Throughout this journey Monique has been guided by her spiritual director, great 
friends and her key mentor The Rev. Bonny Perry, rector of All Saints, Chicago, Illinois. 
It was under the tutelage of Rev. Perry that she recognized her passion for community 
organizing and getting outside the parish walls to conduct one-on-one interviews. 

63 St. Luke's is the first African-American parish established in Washington D.C. in 1873. The 
Rev. Dr. Alexander Crommell was its first rector. 

64 Rector, St. Luke's Episcopal Church 

65 Bishop Sutton is the 14 th Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland and the thirty-ninth Black Bishop 
in the Episcopal Church. 


In her time as a priest she would see the unique experiences of women of African 
heritage as being "unique", "We are called to be chameleon like; the dominant culture 
expects us to meet them, not the other way around." "She feels that lately female priests 
of African heritage are taking more and more positions in white congregations. Stories 
are what she believes to be the cornerstone for how "we" do church. From her 
community organizing experience it's that place of telling and listening to stories where 
we find God working among us. Out of that conviction she says, "God will do the work 
of transformation." 


The Rev. Cheryl E. Parris 
'May God grant you the grace to pray the Eucharist like it is your first time and your last 

time, because it is." 66 

This is one of the many tidbits of advice that The Rev. Cheryl Parris shared with 
some new ordinands. After our interview, Cheryl and I now share a connection in our 
ministry as women of African heritage. Cheryl, who is now part of my quilt pattern, had 
also closely woven pieces of her life with the Rev. Dawn Baskerville-Burrows years 
before. Cheryl states early that her process toward ministry was far from smooth. 

Cheryl is a sixth generation Anglican/ Episcopalian from a family from Trinidad 
and Tobago. She grew up at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church located at 127th and Fifth 
Avenue in New York City. She later recalled that the parish was a major influence in her 
life. She felt called to the priesthood at the age of eleven while in junior choir. In the 
quietness of the upstairs pews of the neo-gothic church she would have real life 
conversations with God. In one of the conversations she remembers the response, "I 
want you to serve here." 

By Cheryl's 18th birthday her rector at that time said that he felt that she was 
called to ordained ministry. Then he said that because he did not believe in women's 
ordination, she would not receive his support. As painful as this was, Cheryl left the 
parish of her youth, and after some church shopping she landed at Trinity Church Wall 

66 Cheryl Parris, interview by author, October 5, 2009. See the full list of Cheryl's suggestions at 
the end of this section. 

Cheryl, meet Jennifer at a Union of Black Episcopalians meeting and have been friends ever 
since. Jennifer states "I wouldn't be a priest if it wasn't for Cheryl Parris" 


Street. After realizing that the discernment process would not work out at Trinity, she 
returned to St. Andrews. The rector had recently left in protest over Barbara Harris' 
consecration. Starting the ordination process there anew she went before the 
Commission on Ministry (COM) only to be told "not yet." In speaking with the late 
Canon Frederick B. Williams, she recalled that he said that the COM didn't feel that she 
paid enough respect to her elders and that was one of the detriments to her process. 

After another few bumps in the road she was finally accepted into the process 
and started at Bexley Hall at the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. Nearing her 
completion of her studies she remembers calling out to God, "I'll go where you want me 
to go and I'll do what you want me to do." Soon after, she received a phone call from 
Rev. James Snodgrass from St. Stephens, Olean, New York, who said "We want you to 
work for us." Cheryl was ordained to the deaconate in 2002 and to the priesthood in 

Olean, New York located 1 5 minutes from the Pennsylvania border, is a poor 
rural community, which is heavily Roman Catholic. St. Andrew's was an all-white 
parish. Cheryl recalls her success in opening the doors, breaking down barriers, and 
inviting people into relationship with one another. While it was a hard work it was an 
excellent experience. She recalls feeling that it was also lonely and isolating. She had left 
behind a number of friends when she made the move to Olean. 

After five years she decided to move on and accepted a call to become rector of 
St. Matthew's Church in Savannah, GA. She arrived on the morning of August 1, 2007. 
A woman drove up besides her and parked. Initially she thought the woman was there to 


welcome her to her new ministry. Instead she produced identification as an IRS agent and 
served the church with a bill for unpaid taxes. It took the first two years of her ministry to 
work on settling accounts with the IRS. Her time in Savannah has been a wonderful 
expression of her ministry and has also made her acutely aware of her New York, 
northern roots. She is reminded that she's not only a Yankee, but also young at that. 
There is an underlying tension that there is "nothing worse than a northerner knowing 
your business." Through it all Cheryl has maintained her composure and her spirit has 
never wavered in the time I have known her. 

She credits this to her role models: The Rev. Sandye Wilson and The Rev. Janice 
Robinson, whom Cheryl considers one of the most balanced priests that she knows. 
Cheryl recalls that on a visit to GTS she had the honor of meeting Pauli Murray, whom 
she didn't immediately recognize. Her support resources are her friends all over the 
country, and her deanery colleagues. 

Her challenges over the years have been the above mentioned loneliness and 
isolation. She is aware that her mouth sometimes gets her into hot spots. As a woman of 
African heritage she is aware that while she is listened to, she is also ignored because she 
is different. She relies heavily on her support group of friends since she is the first 
woman of African heritage in the Diocese of Georgia. She has chosen to spend this time 
in Savannah figuring out where to devote her energy, to prioritize goals and objectives 
and to bring parish programs in line with the budget and outreach endeavors. The joys in 
her life are just being faithful and finding joy in any situation. She credits herself with 
being a person of resilience, fidelity and perseverance. She has written a letter to newly 


ordained clergy which I have included below, in which passes on some of her sage 

Dear Ordinands, 

Hello from St. Matthew's, Savannah. I wish you all of the best as you enter this new 
phase of ministry... "What advice should one share with ordinands you don't know?" 
Well, all I can do is share with you some of the things that may be helpful in your 
ministry, based on my ministry. 

On one hand I wished I spent more time as a Deacon. On the other hand I was so 
thrilled and feared that people would change their mind, so I accepted the date! 

Do have a more intentional prayer life. Memorize as many prayers as possible. I've 
had to stumble into discipline. 

Do realize the loneliness and isolation of ministry. This is true single or married. You 
may find that you are left out in the cold, directionless even though the canons say that 
you are to have a mentor. No matter, find your own mentors, even if they are in books. 

Do read A New Beginning for Pastors and Congregations: Building an Excellent Match 
Upon Your Shared Strengths (A Jossey Bass title) by Kennon L. Callahan and the 
Manual of Business Practices (from 815) before taking that parish. 

Do know that really and truly, a church system cannot handle more than 20% change at 
a time. Really. 

I wish that the clergy adage "Be careful of the first people who become your fast 
friends in a Church" were not true, but it was for me. 

Be careful in contract negotiations. Forget the Diocese, compare your contract with 
your seminary colleagues, have a lawyer and clergy you trust review things before you 
sign. Make sure that they give you a cell phone. 


Never give out your personal e-mail. Create one right now for church business. 

Keep a journal. It will comfort you and prove to be a source of documentation. 

May God grant you the grace to pray the Eucharist like it is your first time and your last 
time, because it is. 
Cheryl+ 68 

Sent to author via email October 6, 2009. 


The Rev. Mpho Tutu 
'God hasn't wandered off yet" 69 

The Rev. Mpho Tutu was born in London, England, and was educated in England, 
South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and the United States. Her early life as an Anglican 
was spent between England and South Africa. She remembers her father Anglican 
Archbishop Emeritus, Desmond Tutu of Cape Town, teaching in a number of multi-racial 
and multi-denominational seminaries and universities in South Africa. She remembers 
that one of the universities was closed by the apartheid government for its mixing of the 
races. Her early life was one in which she herself mixed with people of all races, while 
living under the rules of strict segregation of South Africa. She remembers thinking that 
she was living in a weird context. On the one hand she was living and interacting with 
people in a diverse community, while on another level trips to see her grandparents threw 
her into the stark reality of living under an apartheid government. 

Since she grew up as a "preacher's kid", becoming a priest was not high on her 
list of possible careers. Most of the time she tried to avoid the call to ordained ministry. 
She was constantly running in the opposite direction. It was her college chaplain at 
Howard University, Nat Porter who said to her "you would make a wonderful priest." 
She describes it like Jonah going to Nineveh. After leaving Howard she moved to New 
York City, where she administered her father's scholarship fund. After her marriage she 
moved to the Worchester, Massachusetts area. She began attending All Saints Episcopal 

>9 Mpho Tutu, interview by author, September 30, 2009. 


Church and became actively involved with the Education for Ministry Program (EFM). 
Here she realized that she could run no more. She recalls telling herself that there was 
the possibility that the Diocese of Western Massachusetts could say no and then she 
could continue on with her life. 

Her ordination process was slow to start. The illness and death of her bishop 
meant that the incoming bishop placed the ordination process on hold. Since the 
incoming bishop was her former spiritual director, she also had to find new spiritual 
guidance. The waiting proved to be beneficial, since her father had been diagnosed with 
prostate cancer, and she wanted to spend time with him. 

I met Mpho when we were in the incoming class of 1999 at Episcopal Divinity 
School. She remembers the seminary experience as a time of entering into a deep 
conversation with God. She loved EDS because she didn't have to live on campus and 
she could be present when she knew things deserved her time. This gave her time to be 
with her husband and daughter. She credits the work of the EDS Anti-Racism 
commitment and the way its work and foundations still serve in her ministry today. 
During her third year at seminary she spent a year attending the College of the 
Transfiguration (COT) in Grahamstown, South Africa. She recalls that being a woman 
there was an interesting experience. The male seminarians were not quite sure how to 
relate to a female with family in the ordination process. The other women who attended 
COT were either single or were there without their husbands. She was the only woman 
with a husband on campus and the question was continuously asked: "What is your 
husband going to do?" 


After graduation from Episcopal Divinity School, Mpho was accepted as a Clergy 
Resident in the Lilly Foundation program at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria, 
Virginia. She was ordained a deacon in 2002 and priested in 2003. Christ Church is an 
historic parish located in Alexandria's Old Town. Mpho describes the parish as "being as 
white as you can get." She related two stories to me that occurred at the parish. In one 
incident while with her daughter she was at yelled at in the courtyard by a man who said 
"That's why we cannot get jobs", which to her implied that a women of African heritage 
could get a job while a white man could not. In a second incident she noted that the 
reason she always wore her collar at work was so that she would not have to through the 
trouble of trying to explain to people who she was. She recalls that the experience was at 
times isolating. Her saving grace was that she wasn't centered at Christ Church. She 
had a ministry beyond with her worldwide speaking and preaching engagements. 

After the two-year program ended at Christ Church, she began her own non-profit 
organization, The Tutu Institute of Prayer and Pilgrimage, whose mission is "to support 
and enrich the spiritual journeys by offering opportunities for people to experience the 
world as recipients of God's loving grace." She is not quite sure what direction the 
institute will take in the future. At this time of the writing she is currently on tour with 
her father promoting Made for Goodness a book that they co-authored. Mpho considers 
herself multi-vocational as a wife, mother and a priest and is figuring out how to integrate 
it all together. She currently worships at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Washington 
DC. The parish offers a place where her two daughters have a place to experience God's 



presence through spiritual formation. If that means she doesn't get to serve on the altar, 
she is comfortable with that decision. 

She is keeping centered with a life of prayer life that includes: Morning Prayer, 
running as a form of meditation, Sunday Eucharist and family prayers with her husband 
and children. At some point during her day she will always stop and turn her awareness 
to God's presence. She is supported by her husband, parents and sister clergy. 

The advice she has to pass along would be advice that was passed down to her: "If 
you find a congregation and Bishop that supports you don't move," and "Find other 
people in the process who will support you, laugh, giggle, cry with you. You will need 
them now and later." 


The Rev. Paula Clark Green 

7 1 

'Be open to God's call in strange places" 

Probably the first words uttered by The Rev. Paula Clark Green was "integration." 
A native of Washington D.C., she was born into the Baptist Church. When her parents 
and others tried to integrate the all-white Baptist church the results were less than 
favorable. The result was the creation of The Fellowship of the Free, which would meet 
in the basement of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church. The Fellowship of the Free was 
comprised of black and white parishioners working together on issues of social justice. 
This seed was planted early in Paula's life. Paula recalls that she and her sister 
eventually made it from the basement into the sanctuary. In addition to her parents' work 
of social justice, her family was the first family to integrate their street in D.C. 

She attended the National Cathedral School. It was during her time here that 
The Rev. Jacqueline Means came to speak and she remembers that it had a great impact 
on her. It was while sitting in the National Cathedral at the age of 12-13 that she felt 
the call to ordained ministry. She feels that her sense of call is still being formed, 
especially the call to be a parish priest. 

After accepted into the process, she chose to attend Virginia Theological 
Seminary (VTS), which by her description was at a "kairos period." A period that was 
right and opportune. It was a period when people were openly taking about issues of 

71 Paula Clark Green, interview by author, October 14, 2009. 
National Cathedral School, located in Washington D.C. is an independent day school for girls in 

grades 4 through 12. 


The Rev. Jacqueline Means was the first regularly ordained women in the Episcopal Church on 

January 1, 1977. 


race. Paula is interviewed in a book by The Rev. Joseph Constant, 74 in which she talks 
about the low number of students of African heritage at VTS when she was attending. 
She notes that currently the VTS student of color enrollment is roughly 20%. 

Her view of the ordination process in the Diocese of Washington D.C. is a 
positive one. The months of discernment in the parish were beneficial and prayerful in 
her move towards parish ministry. As she says, she "entered into God's call, whatever 
the call was ordained or not." She still considers her former rector at St. Timothy's, The 
Rev. Canon Dalton Downs, as one of her mentors. She has and still relies on his advice 
and his sound wisdom. Paula was ordained to the priesthood in January 2005. 

Paula's first cure was as an Assistant at St. Patrick's Episcopal Church in 
Washington D.C, an all-white parish. The parish's last member of color, who had long 
since left the church, was in 1964. She recalls that although the rector and the search 
committee knew she was African- American, for whatever reason, the parish did not. One 
parishioner made the statement "You're Paula Green; you're an African- American 
woman." Still the congregation welcomed and embraced her with open arms. She loved 
the experience and the opportunity to thrive in the church environment and the St. 
Patrick's community. Although the issue of race was present, she was loved for who she 

Paula has recently been installed at the Rector at St. John's Episcopal/ Anglican 
Church in Beltsville, Maryland. She is blessed to have her mentor Dalton Downs to 
serve as Priest Associate. Paula loves being a priest here, and as she says, "is serving the 

74 He is Director for Racial and Ethnic Ministries and Social Life at Virginia Theological 
Seminary, and a VTS graduate. 


people of God." The interplay with God's people on a daily basis is one of the things that 
shapes and sustains her. She finds her current work in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial parish 

Paula comments that being an African- American woman gives "us" access in 
white circles that are seen as non-threatening. However, the challenge appears to be 
within the African American church. Comments have been made to her that she is a 
"sell-out" by not working in the Black Church. This has also caused some angst among 
her Black Episcopal male colleagues. She notes that "many of us are in white parishes 
because those are the parishes that have offered us jobs." 

A self-described Gen-X'er, Paula preaches out of that context. She recalls serving 
on a panel with The Rt. Rev. Nathan Baxter, and noticing that they were both using the 
words and music of the negro spirituals in combination the words and music of hip-hop. 
If there was a centering hymn in her life it would be "We Are Marching in the Light of 
God" sung in all three languages. 76 She feels that she is called to bring the common 
expression of God to her congregants and to be part of the wider church. This would 
include relating to people on many levels. She recalls a funeral that she did which 
incorporated both Muslim and Episcopal traditions, and a Yoruba naming service and, 
"ability to bridge different experiences." 

5 Bishop Baxter is the 10 th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. He is also the 
thirty-ninth Bishop of African heritage consecrated in the Episcopal Church. 

Horace Clarence Boyer, ed Lift Every Voice and Sing II: An African American Hymnal (New 
York, Church Publishing Incorporated, 1993), #787. 


The advice she would pass along to women of African heritage in the ordination 
process would be: "Remain open to God's call in strange places, be true to who you are, 
be honest about your identity and appreciate it, and to never give up your voice." 


The Rev. Dr. Anne-Marie Jeffery 


"The church needs your voice" 

One of the first things Anne-Marie speaks about is her connection to other 
ordained women who are an instrumental part of her ministry: Paula Green, Mpho Tutu, 


Kim Baker and Robyn Franklin- Vaughan. The daughter of the late Rt. Rev. Alfred 


Jeffery, her family spans four generations of Anglicans. " Not surprisingly her early 
memories of church focus on the requirement of having to be there, and that the services 
were long and boring. In the midst of all this she recalls being fascinated with the 
Eucharist and could not wait to be confirmed. Growing up Anglican, many of the girls 
expressed an interest in serving as an acolyte but were told such participation was 
reserved for boys only. Anne-Marie petitioned her father, but he would not make an 

As a "preacher's daughter" she had no idea that she was going to be called into 
ministry. The call came while she was working as a physicist with the national 
government in Maryland. She had been working with a seminarian in the ordination 
process at her parish, and while reading through the ordination handbook something with 
in her shook and she remembers feeling a "little off." It was with "fear and trembling" 
and an "oh no" that she began the process towards ordination. 

77 Anne-Marie Jeffery, interview by author, October 17, 2009. 

78 Rev. Kim Baker serves as Chaplain at the Washington Cathedral School. Rev. Robyn-Franklin 
Vaughan serves as Chaplain at Howard University. 

The Rt. Rev. Alfred Jeffery served as Anglican Bishop of Antigua. 



Soon after she was accepted into the process in the Diocese of Washington D.C., 
she attended Virginia Theological Seminary. Although describing the experience, 
curriculum and instruction as enriching, she said, "I have never been more aware of being 
black in my life." She saw first hand just how white the Episcopal church really was and 
how blind the church could be to issues of racism. It was as a student at VTS that she 
became and still remains close friends with Paula Green. She was ordained to the 
priesthood in 2004. 

Her first position was as an Assistant/Urban Missioner at Church of the Epiphany 
which is located in downtown Washington D.C., a racially mixed parish with a 
commitment to issues of social and economic justice. At Epiphany in 2004 that Anne- 


Marie started Street Church, a worshipping community for the homeless. Street Church 
is located three blocks from the White House in Franklin Square Park. It provides the 
homeless with a place to worship, share community, connect, and get something to eat. 
Anne-Marie says of her work with Street Church: "When you're homeless, I think that 
people are always chasing you away. They are not looking at you. If you go and sit next 
to [a homeless person], they'll start talking. You're sitting together; you're eating the 
same thing. People are willing to let you sit with them and join with them, usually.'" 
She credits her parish with presenting her with some wonderful ministerial experiences. 
However, she knew that she would have to leave in order to live more fully into her 
ordained ministry. 


Street Church was inspired by the Boston-based program Ecclesia Ministries. 
Episcopal Life Archive "Worship without Walls" by Lucy Chumbley, October 1 , 2006. 

(accessed November 26, 2009). 


Currently she is wearing three hats: serving as Priest in Charge of St. James's 
Church in Bowie, MD, being co-leader in the proposed merger of two area parishes, St. 
James's and St. George's, and serving as the Episcopal Chaplain at Bowie State 

St. James's has been hit hard in this recession, which has tightened parishioners' 
pockets and diminished the value of the church's endowment. The proposed merger has 
been difficult but is seen as "the only viable option for the survival of St. James's", the 
smaller parish with just 38 parishioners. The proposed merger melds together a white 
parish (St. James's), and a parish that is described as an "eclectic, quirky, and collective 
of straight and gay men and women of various races' (St. George's). Anne-Marie and the 
Rev. Connie Reinhardt (rector of St. George's) are both focused on helping their 
parishioners learn all they can from each other and adjust to the challenges that may lay 
ahead. It is a lot of effort, but Anne-Marie says she feels "closer to her call." 

With all that on her plate as the leader of a start-up church and a start-up 
chaplaincy, she has had to learn to make intentional time for herself for prayer, spiritual 
direction and being with friends. She has been sustained in her faith journey by some 
wonderful mentors. She credits The Rev. Dr. Margaret McNaughton Ayers, Associate 
Dean for Community Life, Ethnic Ministries and Admissions at Virginia Theological 
Seminary who has been a wonderful presence in her life, and Rev. Karla Woggon, Rector 
of Ascension Episcopal Church in Hickory, NC. 

The other parish is St. George's has an average Sunday attendance of 70. 


Her passions for her ministry are preaching and liturgy. She is blessed to be given 
the opportunity at St. James's to look at language in liturgy and to lead workshops and 
educational opportunities for people of all ages. 

Her views and observations of being a woman of color serving in white parishes 
run a wide gamut. She says, "As women of color we are loved more by a white 
congregation." She notes that the racial pecking order for a black congregation calling a 
new priest is: black men, white man, white woman and then black women. Like many of 
her contemporaries, the support comes from other women in similar positions: "There are 
not too many of us, so we are easy to find, but we are determined and special." The 
advice she has to pass along is that "the black churches will not want you, do not be 
surprised." Still "We have a lot to offer the church, the church needs our voice." 

In this chapter it has been an honor to journey with my clergy sisters. While our 
lives have taken a variety of paths to get to this point, we come together in a supportive 
sisterhood much life the trailblazers who have gone before us. The concluding chapter 
takes a look at the threads that bind us together and ways that the church can expand the 
Reign of God in parish leadership. 


Chapter III 

Threads: A Conclusion in Progress 

"I. . .am not contain' d 

between my hat and my boots" 

Walt Whitman. 83 

"Hidden in Plain View: African American Episcopal Women's Histories", is the 
title of a paper presented by Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett in 2004. She speaks to the 
stories of African American women as being in plain sight. Quilts were a means of 
communication between abolitionist and slaves in 19 century America. They were hung 
in conspicuous places along the Underground Railroad and contained imbedded 
messages. These quilts and their patterns gave directions to the next stop, the safe places 
towards freedom. These first ordained women of African heritage have been making 
spiritual and pastoral quilts for other ordained women of African heritage to follow. 
Sometimes these directions were hidden in plain view for those of us who were to follow 
in ordained leadership. In this section are a number of quotes that represent a composite 
portrait of the women whom I have interviewed, although they are not identified by 

Walt Whitman as cited in Pauli Murray, Dark Testament and other Poems, (CT, 

84 Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett, "Hidden in Plain View: African America Episcopal Women's 
Histories," (lecture, Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA, February 24, 2005) 


"Though black Episcopalians fully share the traditions and the liturgy of the 
Episcopal Church, we bring to that heritage a very different social history." The writer 
of this quote, Marjorie Nichols Farmer, maintains that the story of Episcopal women of 
African heritages begins in Philadelphia at the historic St. Thomas' Church where in 
1 974 eleven women were irregularly ordained to the priesthood. 

I disagree, however with Farmer's timeline. The stories of women of African 
heritage in TEC were formed long before Philadelphia. I know personally, as an African 
American woman that I can go back generations to the stories of witness from my 
mother, grandmothers, aunts, the Mama Knox's and Mama Johnson's. Their priestly 
presence has a profound influence in my life. 

With Pauli Murray being ordained in January of 1977, and the last of us in this 
study being ordained in 2003, we have 28 years of sacred stories to share and many 
threads that have passed through each generation. In this analysis of threads I am 
cognizant of the missing middle generation of women of African heritage which would 
include the years 1986 - 1996. I am operating under the assumption that the threads that 
tie the first generation and third generations may bind the middle group as well. 

All the women interviewed here, with the exception of one, have been raised in 
the black church, either the Anglican/Episcopal Church or in the Baptist church. Church 
provided us all a stable and loving community. In many instances parents, especially 
mothers were involved in lay ministry in the parish. Parish life was the center and the 

85 Farmer in Prelinger, "Episcopal Woman", 222. 


core of our communities and educated many young girls like ourselves in the issues of 
social and economic justice. 

What we all have maintained is the ability to find connections with other women 
wherever our calls take us. The deep bonds of friendship formed at General Theological 
Seminary and Union Theological Seminary between Ann Holmes Redding, Sandye 
Wilson, Nan Peete and Kelly Brown Douglas are still in place today. New York City 
provided the first women with some life-long mentors during the late 1970's to mid 
1980's, among them, Bishop Walter Dennis, Bishop Paul Moore, Bishop Herbert 
Donovan, Rev. Canon Frederick Boyd Williams and Bishop Frank Turner. In 
Philadelphia it was Rev. Paul Washington, in Boston, Bishops John Coburn and John 
Burgess, Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman and Rev. Canon Ed Rodman. Other supporters 
include: Rev. Canon Kwasi Thornell, Rev. Canon Harold Lewis, Archbishop Desmond 
Tutu, Bishop Henry Mason, Rev. Henri Steines, and Rev. Lloyd Casson. Many of the 
men listed above have also served as allies along the way. These allies were male and 
female, lay and ordained; black and white. They were not afraid to speak truth to power. 
They spoke up, whether the situation was as small as being followed as a potential 
shoplifter in a local grocery store or as large as receiving death threats. 

It is not surprising that the early women experienced struggles in their ordination 
process. Both black and white clergy and the laity were at times less than supportive, 
often verbally expressing their displeasure with both women seminarians and priests. 
These women found creative ways to find supportive havens within their communities, 


whether that community was found at a seminary, with a supportive rector, a supportive 
instructor, or just when the presence of the Holy Spirit was especially needed. 

For all the support that this group of women has gained over the years, we have 
all lost friends as a result of our being ordained or marrying out of our race, as a result of 
elevation in pastoral status to the level of Bishop or Canon, or working in all-white parish 
settings. Two common denominators that span generations are the foundational and 
historic ministries of Pauli Murray and Barbara Harris. Mary Adebonojo, Barbara Harris, 
Sandye Wilson and Gayle Harris were fortunate enough to have Pauli attend their 
ordinations, and for the remainder of the women it is an honor to be acquainted with her 

Unlike some of our brothers of African heritage, who knew from an early age that 
they were called to the priesthood, we tended to run fast and hard from our call until it 
spoke to us in some unlikely places. And in some instances, when the message was so 
clear, we continued to ignore that which we were called by God to do. Our employment 
histories prior to entering the ordination process included: professor, executive, historic 
preservationist, physicist and fundraiser. Our talents and experiences strengthened all of 
us women in our ordained ministries. 

Experiences of racism, classism, sexism and internalized oppression have deeply 
impacted our lives as priests. Some of us have seen the "ism's" in the parishes we have 
been called to or placed in. As one of the women said of bishops and deployment 
officers, "we are sometimes called and assigned to be in charge of places that they never 
would put a white person in." Another woman was told by a former white parishioner 


that "the church was fine until the niggers came in." Another was told by a black lay 
male, "black women priests would deprive the black male priests from all the good jobs." 
Some of these woman have had their offices searched, tires slashed, mail stolen, petitions 
for their removal circulated, received hate mail, been yelled at for their color, lived in rat 
and roach infested clergy housing, and yet through these experiences they have seldom 
wavered in the call to ministry. Women have continued to break through the barriers that 
have been placed in front of us with grace, dignity, and as one priest said, "a sense of 
fashion and style." 

While some of our male priests of African heritage have been our rock and 
salvation, relationships between male and female clergy continue to be strained at times. 
Some black male clergy find that women called to serve white parishes are "selling out." 
Yet, "Many of us are in white parishes" because "those are the parishes that offer us the 
jobs", one woman exclaimed. "Very interesting, I haven't quite figured out the dynamics 
between us yet" was a phrase used to describe the relationships between male and female 
clergy of African heritage. Some women feel that they [the men] don't know what to do 
with them. One woman was disappointed that more women were not serving in the black 
church. She believes that women are called to serve the black church. It was generally 
expressed that all of women of African heritage need to continue to be in mutual 
conversation and discernment to work side by side with male clergy of African heritage. 

All the women interviewed find support in hymns of praise. Hymns serve as a 
continuous way of prayer. Knowing the words and music by heart, we sing loudly and 
proudly. We move, we sway and we clap on the less dominant beat of 2 and 4. We sing 


at the altar, we sing with each other, we sing by ourselves, we sing off key, and in perfect 
harmony, but we sing. And if by some chance we cannot remember the words, we 
certainly remember the tune. Hymns of praise are like melodious prayers that can be 
sung ever so quietly anywhere and everywhere. The words to hymns are prayers of 
comfort in difficult, as well as in good times. One only needs to attend the consecration 
of a bishop, the installation of a rector, a funeral, or choir practice to know the 
importance of music in our lives. Hymns serve as a foundational source for our 
preaching. In some ways this music connects one back to loved ones and ancestors and 
by the same token bring the joy of hope, expectation and anticipation. 

As the first African American woman ordained in the Episcopal Church, Pauli 
Murray's life and work was rooted in the feminist movement. For Pauli, the feminist 
theological movement and the movement of black theologies spoke to a need for 
humanization and an understanding of the oppressed as subjects of history with whom 
God identifies. Although she believed that they were both vital movements towards 
religious and social betterment, she felt that neither spoke to the experiences of African 
American women who suffered because of their race, gender and class. While Pauli was 
on the cutting edge of both the feminist and womanist movements, none of the women 
interviewed related any of their particular work as being under the umbrella of "womanist 


Although the word "womanist" was not mentioned in any of my interviews, I 
believe that these women do follow the elements of womanist theological methodology 
as articulated by the author Delores Williams. 

1) The female clergy of African heritage are change agents . Women have been 
change agents regarding issues of social or political nature. They have been committed to 
the care and nurturing of people inside or out of their religious communities. Female 
clerical work has been to the care of the least, lost and the last which includes; feeding 
and providing spiritual nourishment to the poor and homeless. For all of the women 
interviewed ministry has always gone beyond the doors of the church and into making 
disciples in the community and beyond. 

2) The clergy women of African heritage are informed by liturgy. The love of 
liturgy allows a new awareness to the thought, worship and actions of both the black and 
white church. As mentioned above, it is not only the hymns of praise that inform our 
core being but also the incorporation of new forms of worship. The center of ministry is 
always in the celebration of the Eucharist. The women interviewed have been creative in 
the worship offerings to their communities. There have been candlelight compline 
services led by youth groups, an outdoor church for the homeless, Saturday seeker 
services, gospel Sunday services and intentional services to meet the youth where they 
are by incorporating contemporary music. The women surveyed have been creative in 
their worship offerings but have stayed away from the new contemporary canned services 

Delores Williams, The Womanist Reader, ed. Lay li Phillips (New York, Routledge, 2006), 121. 



of U2charist and the Hip-Hop Mass. Lectionary based sermons also provide a time to 
reflect upon stories of injustice, racism, interpretation of world news events, and the 
heartfelt movement of the spirit working in one's life. One priest used the theme song 
from the Broadway play "Rent" to begin a sermon addressing the question of how does 
one spend their daily life and work as Christians in the world. Another woman used a 
personal encounter with a woman raising 17 children whose parents had died of AIDS, 
yet another has preached widely about the full and total inclusion of gays and lesbians 
into the episcopate of the Church. 

3) The clergy woman of African heritage has a gift for teaching. Since their 
interpretations of scripture are through the eyes of women of African heritage, they tend 
to encourage and nurture others to interpret scripture through their own lenses as well. 
All the women emphasize, "Be yourself, and be authentic." There was an importance of 
always remembering the order of life priorities, one is prayer life, one is family, and one 
is ministry. All the women believe that all people have gifts and one of the clergy's 
responsibilities is to encourage people to find their gifts and to celebrate them, whether 
they are found within the walls of the church or outside in the world. I heard it expressed 
more than once that "we are daughters of Hagar.'" They have all been involved in 
bringing young people into the church and providing a foundation and the language for 
them to live out the gospel. 

U2charist uses the songs of the music group U2 in lieu of hymns. The Hip-Hop Mass, created by 
The Rev. Timothy Holder, Bronx, New York, uses the rhyme and poetry of MC's, rappers, gospel and soul 
music as an outreach to children and young people. 

Hagar was known as a model of power, skill, strength and drive. Genesis, chapters 16 and 21 . 


4) The clergy women of African heritage have commitment to imagery and 
cultural language. Woman of African heritage are a people of stories. As stories have 
been passed down in their lives from generation to generation, they too have their stories 
to pass to those we serve, as well as those women of African heritage who are following 
in the ordination process. All of them came of age where the dominant image of God 
was Father and Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the angels were Caucasian. Yet, they have 
always had their own image of God, Jesus, the Holy Family and angels. I recall my 
father telling me at an early age that "Jesus couldn't possibly have blond hair and blue 
eyes, not coming from that region of the world." The angels were family members who 
had passed, who still held a place of reverence, and a source of eternal wisdom. They 
have not only created our own images, but are comfortable enough to express these 
images with others. Whether they knew it at the time of our call, ordination or our work 
in ministry, we all feel the connectivity with our sisters, lay and ordained, living or 

It has been said that those things which bind us together are stronger than those 
that tear us apart. Female clergy of African heritage continue to work their contemporary 
quilts which are hidden in plain sight. 

In the course of writing this thesis I have developed a deep and abiding personal 
connection and empathy with other ordained women of African heritage in TEC. Their 
linkages, their connections - at times acknowledged, sometimes not - connect these 
women, myself included, across time and space. 


Storytelling has always been an important part of the upbringing of women of 
African heritage. Through storytelling, questions were answered, history was conveyed, 
and lifelong lessons were taught and processed. I have heard it said that when an elder 
passes on, it's as if a library has burned. 

I have attempted to share stories about some of the first eleven African- American 
women ordained in TEC, as well as stories of some of my contemporaries in ministry. I 
hope that this body of work will serve to supplement the educational teachings about 
ordained women's transforming leadership and power. The questions and scenarios 
found in the appendix are intended to broaden the scope of the work of deployment 
officers, search committees, parishes and consultants. 

Why are the stories important and what place do they have in the history of TEC? 
These stories provide another level of context to examine in the church. TEC church is a 
place full of possibilities, chaos, creativity and conflict. It is a place where harmony and 
conflict co-exist. It's a place that transcends and defies dualism, where rigid linear reality 
cannot exist and a place where multiculturalism and diverse identities mix and mingle in 
a constant ebb and flow of prayer, mess, mediation and mitigation. In other words: God 
is calling all people into the beloved community. 

With the exception of Pauli Murray, the remaining ten women in the first 
generation of priests are alive and in good health. They recall their stories like it was 
yesterday, and are still active in the church. I wanted to hear their stories. I wanted to 
hear their experiences first hand. I wanted to share in the community of women, both lay 
and ordained, who persevered so that I could become a priest. The same interest to know 


the story of the Philadelphia eleven expanded my desire to know about the first eleven 
ordained African- American women, five of whom I interviewed for this project. 

My contemporaries attended a number of different seminaries. Sometimes we 
were brought together at an OBES (Organization of Black Episcopal Seminarians) 
Conference. For the most part we were brought together by word of mouth, to find 
community where none had previously existed. We were branching out into white 
suburban and rural parishes. We found that we needed to "find" each other for mutual 
care and support. The mentoring process with both black and white allies was a critical 
and key component to our work in parishes. We also realized that we were sometimes an 
enigma in our dioceses, with deployment officers, search committees and bishops alike 
not knowing quite what to do with us in terms of deployment. 

As far as I am aware, this thesis is the first compilation of the stories from a 
selection of the first African- American women ordained in the Episcopal Church. It was 
through conversations and ordination dates that I was able to compile the list. It would 
be a rich addition to the curriculum of Episcopal Church history if their stories were 
included and made part of the national church archives. Present curriculum material 
provides supplemental information on Native Americans, women's history, and African 
American history mostly from the male perspective. 

Likewise, the women of African heritage who are entering, or are now in the 
ordination process, could benefit from the stories and experiences of all these women. 
We are at a very pivotal time in our church in regards to the changing models of parish 
ministry. Bi-vocational appears to be the new deployment word. If these women are 


informed about our experiences in parish ministry, this better equips them with the 
questions to ask and perhaps some pitfalls to avoid when working with the diocesan 
deployment officers, search committees and bishops. 

Allies, black and white, male and female, have provided and are still providing a 
crucial ministerial support to all of the women. These allies function as sounding boards 
and wise counsel, listening and offering sound advice. They see the ministry of women 
of African heritage on a broad scale. They have spoken and continue to boldly speak to 
issues of racial, social and economic justice. Mentors have proven to be invaluable 
guides along these women's spiritual journeys. 

Until last year the Office of Black Ministries held no track for clergy working 
outside of black parishes. Many of women did not attend the conferences as there was 
nothing on the agenda that addressed serving in all-white or predominately white 
parishes. Group discussions, a space for active listening, will enhance and broaden the 
oral stories so that will create a space for shared experiences and follow God's call for to 
be in covenant relationship with each other. In addition, we can further deepen this 
discussion to include God's call to each of us to live out our baptismal covenant in all 

In the appendix readers will find questions and scenarios for group work, that 
seek to integrate the stories with motives for examining the ordained leadership of 
women of African heritage. They are written with bishops, deployment officers, 
parishes, search committees and consultants in mind. I have used female clergy of 


African heritage as a reference point, but the material can be faithfully adapted to looking 
at the ministry of other ethnic groups. 

When church leaders are able to look at the search process through different 
lenses, I believe it will broaden their search criteria when looking at potential applicants 
for clergy positions. 


Working with the Stories of Women of African Heritage in Broadening the Call to 

Ordained Leadership 

In group work I always believe that there are group norms that ground and center 
people. The group should feel free to tailor or add as required. I would suggest that the 
group opens every session with prayer for God's guidance in the work they will be 
engaged in. 
Suggested Guidelines for Recognizing and Valuing Differences: 

The Sharing of Yourself: 

• Try on. 

• It's okay to disagree. It's not okay to shame, blame, or attack oneself of 

• Practice self focus. 

• Practice "both/and" thinking. 

• Beware of intent and impact. 

• Take 100 percent responsibility for one's own learning. 

• Maintain confidentiality. 

• It's okay to be messy. 

• Say ouch. 89 


William M. Kondrath, God's Tapestry: Understanding and Celebrating Differences (Hemdon, 

Virginia, The Alban Institute, 2008), 4. These guidelines were originally written by Visions, Inc. 


Listen to Others: 

• Hold each speaker's words as sacred. 

• Listen with an understanding and open heart, acceptance and support of 
the speaker. 

• Allow persons to draw their own conclusions from their word without 
offering analysis, probing, judgment, or an attempt to "fix" them. 

• Allow each person to do his or her own work and be supportive of each 
person's personal journey. 

• Stretch to really listen to others, for those things said and those things left 

• Honor each person by giving your full attention. 

It is only in the giving of time and space for the sharing of stories, fears and concerns that 
we will move into including the names of women of African heritage on the table for 
deployment in the church. 

Some Suggested Questions for Bishops and Deployment Officers. 
• How many women of African Heritage have been called through a search process 
to be the lead pastor? Looking at the stories you have read how can bishops, and 
deployment officers be more supportive of the call to ordained leadership either in 
a parish or on the Diocesan staff? 


How many women of African Heritage have appointed by the local bishop to 

serve as priest-in-charge, interims or in other capacities? 

Based on the stories you have read what are some of the barriers in issues of 

deployment facing women of African heritage in your diocese today? 

How can we as leaders in the church read and share these stories as a part of our 

Episcopal history? 

Some Suggested Questions and Exercises for Small Group Work 
(lay and ordained) 

• Read Acts 2:43-47 

Reflecting on the passage consider the following questions. 

* What is the reality of the existence of such a community today? 

* How does this picture of the early church influence what we are called to 
be as the church today? 

* What would it take to move our parish families toward it? 

• As reflected in the stories you have read, what does the "Good News" that Jesus 
brings mean to you? 


Scenario One: Lifelines 

Materials Needed: colored markers, pencils, large newsprint and masking tape. 

When we take a look at the Gospel of Mark we are immediately drawn into Jesus' 
journey. Rooted in an oral tradition the Gospel moves smoothly; it is almost as if you 
are sitting at the feet of a consummate storyteller. 

In the lifelines exercise, you will draw something of your journey, both from the 
external perspective of what happened and from a spiritual perspective, the inner 
meaning of your journey. You can define "spiritual" in any way that you life. You 
will then be given an opportunity to explain your journey, your lifeline, with your 

Drawing your external and spiritual lifeline is an excellent way to begin to think 
about how your story connects with Mark's story, and how you can bring your 
experiences face-to-face with the divine events in the life of Jesus and better open 
yourself. Your times in desert places, on high plateaus, in dark valleys, along 
winding roads, or on the mountain top all resonate with the story Mark tells. 

With a marker on the large newsprint chronologically chart those points in your 
life that mark the hills and valleys of your life. If you were increasingly happy as a 
child, you might draw a gradually ascending hill. If adolescence was an especially 
difficult time, you would draw a rather steep descent once the peak of the hill was 
reached. If your twenties were good years but calm, you might want to draw a 
plateau: if turbulent, you could indicate this by jagged peaks and valleys. Continue 


this until you have drawn the place where you are now. Then with a pencil label each 
of the most significant events and turning points in your life. 

Now with a different color marker, beginning at the same place, draw your 
spiritual lifeline. Define spiritual any way that you would like. For example: the 
power of the church community in your life, your relationship with the Lord, your 
appreciation with the sacraments and/or Scripture, your encounter with God. With 
your pencil label the significant spiritual events in your life. 

Each person shares their lifeline; you do not have to explain what everything 

Rationale: Like the Gospel of Mark and the stories we have read, we get to the 
current place in both our physical and spiritual lives through a process. We are often 
called to serve the church knowing very little of the people with whom we are to 
make important decisions. This connects everyone through the use of their own 
personal stories. How can you also connect the stories you have read with your own 
personal journey? 

Scenario Two: Community in the Book of Acts 

Materials needed: comfortable surroundings and candles. 

Luke was the author not only of the Third Gospel; he was also the author of the 
Book of Acts, which picks up where the Gospel narrative ends. Luke says that Jesus 
began his ministry in the power of the Spirit. Luke begins Acts by showing that the 
same Spirit that dwelt in Jesus as an individual now comes to indwell the church that 


God calls into being. The Holy Spirit comes in a powerful way. Like a mighty wind, 
to fill people gathered at Jerusalem for Pentecost. 

We quickly learn that the special work of the Holy Spirit is to unify. God, the 
Father/Mother creates and gives the law; God the Son redeems the fallen creation 
showing the way, God the Holy Spirit unifies, brings together, and makes community. 
The sudden feeling of union that descends upon old and new followers of Jesus on 
Pentecost is so strong that Luke describes the experience this way, (read Acts 2:1-4). 

In the Christian view, the Church, with all of its failings, is not just a bunch of 
people who come together to worship God; it is rather a community empowered by 
the mighty Spirit of God, the Mighty Wind of God. When we are being that church 
we feel that power; it is strong enough to transform lives, strong enough to raise up 
the weak, save the lost. Strong enough to help us fight effectively against racism, and 
for social and economic justice. 

Questions: How are we called after reading these stories to act as changes agents 
for full inclusion in TEC? Where are some of the places where you can clearly see 
the work of the Holy Spirit moving through the lives of these women? 


Questions for Interviews 
First African American women ordained in the Episcopal Church 

• Where were you born? 

• What was your religious upbringing? 

• What are the experiences that informed your early life? 

• How did you receive that "call to ordination"? 

• What is your sense of call now and how was that formed? 

• What was your seminary and how was the experience as an African American 

• When you ordained and what was your view of your process? 

• What one or two persons were your mentors and/or foremost in their journey to 
ordained leadership? 

• What was your first cure/job, how was that experience seen through thru the 
lenses of an African American woman? 

• Parish life vs. non-parish life? Climate and decision (if applicable)? 

• What are/have you involved in, in parish and community? 

• What was it like being part of the first eleven African American women ordained 
in the Episcopal Church? 

• What have been your greatest challenges and your greatest joys? 

• What experiences are unique in the TEC to African American women/challenges? 

• What have been your experiences with your Diocese of ordination and your 
Diocese of present/past? 


How do you do church, as an African American woman? 

What are your spiritual practices that keep you centered? 

What are/ have been your support resources? 

Experience in the wider church? 

Experiences of racism, sexism, and other "isms" you have faced? 

Experience in the Black Church? 

Experience in the White Church /wider Church? 

What information, advice etc would you like to pass on to women of African 

descent in ministry now? 

What about your pastoral relationships with male clergy of African heritage? 

Is there a question that you wish I would have asked? 


Bibliography and Recommended Reading List 

Boyer, Horace C. ed. Lift Every Voice and Sing II: An African American Hymnal. New 
York, Church Publishing Incorporated, 1993. 

Bozzuti-Jones, Mark. The Miter Fits Just Fine! A Story About the Rt. Rev. Barbara 

Clementine Harris, The First Woman Bishop in the Anglican Communion. Cambridge 
MA: Cowley Publications, 2003. 

Bragg, George. History of the Afro-American Group of the Episcopal Church. Baltimore: 
Advocate Press, 1922. 

Carpenter, Delores C. A Time for Honor: A Portrait of African American Clergywomen. 
St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001. 

Church Terrell, Mary. A Colored Woman in a White World. Washington, D.C.: Ransdell, 

Darling, Pamela W. New Wine: The Story of Women Transforming Leadership and 
Power in the Episcopal Church. Cambridge MA: Cowley Publication, 2004. 

Donovan, Mary S. Women Priests in the Episcopal Church: The Experience of the First 
Decade. Cincinnati: Forward Movement Publications, 1988. 

Dozier, Verna. The Calling of the Laity: Verna Dozier 's Anthology, Herndon, VA: Alban 
Institute, 1988. 

Episcopal Clerical Directory (1917-2009). New York: The Church Hymnal Corporation. 

Findlay, Jr., James F. Church People in the Struggle: The National Council of Churches 
and the Black Freedom Movement, 1950-1970. New York: Oxford University Press, 

Gilkes, Cheryl T. If it Wasn 'tfor the Women. New York: Orbis, 2001 

Kondrath, William M. God's Tapestry: Understanding and Celebrating Differences 
Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2008. 

Kujawa-Holbrook, Sheryl A. Freedom is a Dream: A Documentary History of Women in 
The Episcopal Church. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2002. 

Lewis, Harold T. Yet with a Steady Beat: The African-American Struggle for Recognition 
in the Episcopal Church. Valley Forge: PA: Trinity Press International, 1996. 


Lincoln, C. Eric and Lawrence H. Mamiya. The Black Church in the African American 
Experience. Durham: Duck University Press, 1990. 

Murray, Pauli. Dark Testament and Other Poems. Norwalk, CT: Silvermine, 1970. 

Murray, Pauli. Proud Shoes: the Story of an American Family. New York: Harper and 
Brothers, 1956. 

Murray, Pauli. Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage. New York: Harper 
& Row, 1987. 

Pauli Murray Papers. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, 
Cambridge, MA. 

Phillips, Layli ed. The Womanist Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006. 

Prelinger, Catherine P ed. Episcopal Women: Gender, Spirituality, and Commitment in 
an American Mainline Denomination. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. 

Rodman, Edward. Let There Be Peace Among Us: A Story of the Union of Black 
Episcopalians. Lawrence ville, VA: Brunswick Publishing Corporation, 1990. 

Scott, Anne F. ed. Pauli Murray & Caroline Ware: Forty Years of Letters in Black and 
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Shattuck, Jr., Gardner. Episcopalians and Race: Civil War to Civil Rights. Lexington 
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Taylor, Robert G. "A Historical Overview of the Presence and Experience of the 
African Diaspora at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church." 
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Thompsett, Fredrica Harris. "Hidden in Plain View: African America Episcopal 
Women's Histories" (lecture, Virginia Theological Seminary, Arlington, VA, 
February 24, 2005). 

Thompsett, Fredrica Harris. "Women in the American Episcopal Church," Encyclopedia 
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Thompsett, Fredrica Harris and Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook, eds. Deeper Joy: Lay Women 
and Vocation in the 20 th Century Episcopal Church. New York: Church Publishing, 


Townes, Emilie. In a Blaze of Glory, Womanist Spirituality as a Social Witness. 
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Washington, Paul M. Other Sheep I Have: The Autobiography of Father Paul M. 
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